Press freedom is “already at an all-time low” ahead of tomorrow’s Commons votes on Data Protection Bill cost amendments, a leading industry representative said today as the Prime Minister spoke up for the free press.
David Dinsmore, who chairs industry body the News Media Association which promotes the interests of UK news publishers to Government, said local newspapers were a “force for good in our society” that is coming under threat.
Dinsmore today visited Johnston Press’s Chichester publishing centre, where papers such as the Chichester Observer are produced, a day before MPs are due to vote on two amendments to the Data Protection Bill which have been labelled anti-press by local newspaper editors.
Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson has proposed an amendment which would introduce costs sanctions requiring publishers to pay the claimants’ costs of legal action brought against them in data protection cases, win or lose, unless they are signed up to a state-backed regulator.
And former Labour leader Ed Miliband tabled an amendment which would establish a broad new statutory inquiry into data protection issues in the media after the Government scrapped the second part of the Leveson inquiry.
Dinsmore (pictured, right) said today that both amendments would stifle freedom of speech and pose a grave threat to local newspaper journalism.
“Next week is Local Newspaper Week, when we will all be celebrating the power of local newspapers to make a real difference to the communities they serve,” he said.
“It is deeply ironic then that, tomorrow, in the run up to the week, our elected representatives in the House of Commons are set to consider amendments which would cripple local and national newspapers.
“It is essential that they are resisted. Press freedom is already at an all-time low in this country and these further restrictions would irreversibly damage freedom of speech in this country.”
Dinsmore added: “But I am heartened to see today that local journalism is not only alive and well but continuing to make a real and positive difference to people’s lives. That’s what the best journalism – local, regional or national – should be about.”
He was supported by Sussex editorial director and Johnston Press deputy editor-in-chief Gary Shipton (pictured, left) who said: “The anti-press measures in the Data Protection Bill represent a clear and present danger to local journalism.
“MPs who believe in our democracy must stand up for freedom of speech by decisively rejecting the amendments when they come before the Commons tomorrow.”
Theresa May told her Cabinet today to block the proposals, saying “it was important for the Government to resist amendments which could undermine our free press”, the Mirror reported.
A No 10 spokesperson said: “Almost £50million of public money has already been spent on investigating phone hacking, and establishing a further public inquiry requiring great time and expense is not a proportionate solution to allegations that have already been the subject of several extensive police investigations or ongoing investigations by the Information Commissioner’s Office.
“The PM said the Government remains committed to a voluntary system of independent press self-regulation and the amendment on Section 40 would force the press to sign up to a system which has already been outright rejected by the majority of publications.
“It is also unnecessary and disproportionate given we now have an independent and strengthened system of regulation, with IPSO making continued improvements such as the introduction of a mandatory arbitration scheme in line with Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations.
“The PM said many would consider it against natural justice that even if a newspaper was found not to be at fault they could still end up having to pay costs.”