Crazy Lords Vote To Tame UK Press Must Be Opposed

What has the House of Lords done now? How could it narrowly vote in favour of a ridiculous rule that has previously, and sensibly, been kicked into the so-called "long grass" by the Government?

It beggars belief, but last night the House of Lords, with a slim majority, approved Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act of 2013. It was such a ridiculous clause that it never became law, but for some reason, the UK's unelected chamber last night resurrected it and gave it a green light. 

Fortunately, Culture Secretary Matt Hancock is all over it and vowing to have the vote overturned. He's right, and here's why.

Could you ever imagine a situation so farcical that someone can take another person to court and have their legal fees paid regardless of whether they win or lose? That is exactly what Section 40 says, and it's because it's such a ludicrous rule that it never made it to the statute book. 

It is a very blatant big stick with which to smack the vast majority of newspapers that do not want to submit to being ruled by Royal Charter. If the law were to be passed, the only way to avoid paying both sides' fees would be to sign up to a press watchdog regulated by Royal Charter.

Now, you can argue about this until the cows come home -- and believe me, I have -- but national newspapers will never submit to being regulated by the people they are there to hold to account -- be that members of the Houses of Parliament or the royal family. You can say whatever you like, but no serious newspaper will submit to a watchdog set up through the authorities.

That doesn't mean that newspapers are lawless. Far from it. Today's financial figures from The Sun show that it is still bearing the brunt of paying out compensation to hacking victims, and quite rightly too. Then we have Operation Elveden, which probed the corrupt relationship between the police and journalists up until November 2016. Of the 90 arrests made, there were 34 convictions.

The country has strong laws that have been applied and no journalist, or person in a position of authority, can be under any illusion that leaking or hacking information is a criminal offence. We don't need our country's press run by officially regulated watchdogs to press home the point. 

The Independent Press Standards Organisation, set up by the newspaper industry, runs an arbitration service that allows people to air a grievance. Its ruling is binding and does not prevent a claimant pursuing a case in the courts. 

Making newspapers pay both sides of legal fees is just a blackmail scheme to make them begrudgingly join a watchdog regulated by Royal Charter, such as Impress. Compare its membership list to IPSO's and you will see the big guys are avoiding the official scheme in favour of the industry's own regulator.

Culture Secretary Matt Hancock makes a very good point when saying the Lords vote was a "hammer blow" for local media where newspapers simply don't have the budget to risk having to pay both sides' legal costs. 

This is a case of the unelected pandering to the ill-informed so they appear to be making a case for a fair press. Their vote last night would achieve exactly the opposite.

Next story loading loading..