The editor of the Nottingham Post has hit back at a claim from the chairman of Hacked Off that he has allowed himself to be used as “human shield” by national newspapers in the debate over press regulation.
Chair of Hacked Off Hugh Tomlinson QC said in his blog: “The local press has, over the past few weeks, been running an anti-Leveson campaign in response to the Government’s unfair and unbalanced consultation on the implementation of Leveson.”
The Nottingham Post has expressed concern in a comment piece about having to sign up to a “potentially expensive compulsory arbitration process” under Royal Charter-based press regulation. It said local papers “could well have to find thousands of pounds to contest every case heard, as complainants queued up to cash in on minor errors when a swift apology would suffice”.
Tomlinson said: “The claim is pure scaremongering. Of the 140 IPSO complaints brought against local newspapers over the past two years only 14 could even theoretically give rise to a legal claim – at most there are likely to be a handful of arbitration claims against the local press. Bad claims would be weeded out by the arbitrator at an early stage. The likely additional cost to local newspapers would be negligible.”
And he added: “The Nottingham Post, dancing to the tune of its Trinity Mirror masters, has no proper arguments against the implementation of section 40.
“Although the Post did not engage in phone hacking and the wholesale abuse of victims, its ultimate owners did. The Post is one of many local and regional papers acting as ‘human shields’ – providing the excuses to justify a last-ditch attempt by the national newspaper groups to avoid participating in a proper system of regulation.”
Nottingham Post editor Mike Sassi responded in a statement to Press Gazette: “The Post is a daily paper that guards its independence jealously. Like most local newspapers it is also proud to serve the local community that it seeks to represent.
“It appears that Mr Tomlinson doesn’t understand local papers. Certainly much of his analysis doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
“He says only 140 IPSO complaints have been brought against local papers in the last two years. Presumably he is omitting the rest of the 2,896 complaints made against local newspapers because IPSO dismissed them without investigation, deeming them to be either not credible or outside its remit.
“Like all local newspapers, The Nottingham Post receives dozens of complaints every year. The vast majority are dealt with amicably, often by us explaining to complainants how and why something has been reported. A small number are resolved with a swift clarification and, if necessary, an apology.
“However, if Section 40 were to become law, complainants would have a huge financial incentive to pursue us, knowing that even if they lose we have to pay their costs. The number of complaints would inevitably increase.
“Mr Tomlinson says his proposed arbitration scheme would be cheap. He neglects to mention that it would also be compulsory. His throwaway line that ‘costs need not rise above a few thousand’ will raise a wry smile in every local newspaper office, right across our financially-challenged industry.
“The overwhelming cost of dealing with a big increase in complaints, multiplied by ‘a few thousand’ each time, would inevitably lead to us publishing little, if anything, contentious. Local papers like The Post would be paralysed.
“It’s long been obvious that Mr Tomlinson and his supporters are determined to bring down a handful of national newspapers. Now it seems they are prepared to risk destroying the Nottingham Post and the rest of Britain’s local newspaper industry, to achieve their aim.”
Neil Benson, Trinity Mirror’s editorial director regionals, said: “The Nottingham Post, like all Trinity Mirror titles, is editorially independent. Content decisions are made – 100 per cent of the time – by the editor and his team. To suggest otherwise is not only inaccurate, it is hugely insulting to our journalists in Nottingham.”