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Region's MPs urged to block bill which would harm journalism

PUBLISHED: 08:40 08 May 2018 | UPDATED: 08:40 08 May 2018

The Houses of Parliament in Westminster. Pic: Tim Ireland/PA Wire

The Houses of Parliament in Westminster. Pic: Tim Ireland/PA Wire

Archant

The region’s MPs are today urged to vote against amendments to a Parliamentary bill which newspaper editors say would cause irreparable damage to journalism.

Archant chief content officer Matt Kelly. Photo : Steve AdamsArchant chief content officer Matt Kelly. Photo : Steve Adams

Editors, including of this newspaper, are urging MPs to reject what they call anti-press amendments in the Data Protection Bill due to be discussed in Parliament tomorrow.

They say the changes, as well as triggering a new statutory inquiry into all media organisations, including local newspapers, would introduce “draconian costs sanctions” into data protection.

That, they say, would require publishers to pay the claimants’ costs of legal actions brought against them, as well as their own, whether the claimant wins or loses – harming the ability of local newspapers to carry out investigative reporting.

And editors say, despite modifications purporting to exempt local papers, the cost sanctions would still impact on 85 per cent of the local press.

Matt Hancock (Conservative MP for West Suffolk). Picture: House of CommonsMatt Hancock (Conservative MP for West Suffolk). Picture: House of Commons

The proposals are similar to those contained in Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act, which culture secretary and West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock has refused to implement.

Following the Leveson inquiry, newspapers such as this one are regulated by press watchdog IPSO, financed by member publishers.

But proponents of the section 40 changes say newspapers should agree to be regulated by the privately financed Impress, or to set up another independent regulator.

And Matt Kelly, chief content officer of Archant, which publishes the Eastern Daily Press, Norwich Evening News and a number of weekly titles in Norfolk, has called for MPs to reject the amendments tabled by Labour’s Ed Miliband and Tom Watson.

He said “We are deeply concerned by the effect the Section 40 costs sanctions and proposed inquiry would have on our business.

“MPs must stand up for the local newspapers and local democracy by decisively rejecting both measures on Wednesday.”

David Powles, the editor of the Eastern Daily Press and Norwich Evening News, and Brad Jones, who edits our sister papers the East Anglian Daily Times and Ipswich Star, have written to the region’s MPs urging them not to vote for the amendments to the bill.

‘A profoundly damaging impact’ – our letter to MPs

Dear MP,

I am writing to ask for your support as MPs prepare to vote on measures which could have a profoundly damaging impact on local and regional media, including the Eastern Daily Press and Norwich Evening News.

Tomorrow, the House of Commons will vote on amendments to the Data Protection Bill, which could begin a new inquiry into all media and bring the draconian Section 40 costs sanctions into law.

There is no need for this costly Leveson 2-style inquiry. Publishers and editors have already faced up to their responsibilities since the Leveson Report.

In addition, the Section 40 costs sanctions pose a grave threat to the viability of local journalism. An amendment tabled by Tom Watson MP, deputy leader of the Labour Party, would bring this into law, with catastrophic effects.

It would require publishers to pay all the claimants’ costs of legal actions brought against them as well as their own – whether they win or lose. This could lead to many vexatious claims and poses a huge threat to investigative journalism.

Despite modifications purporting to exempt local papers, the cost sanctions would still impact on 85pc of the local press.

The amendment punishes local and national newspapers (including the EDP and Evening News) merely for lawfully deciding to join the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) – which already provides robust and fair regulation – and rejecting the Royal Charter system for reasons of principle. A state-sponsored system of press regulation would be damaging to freedom of expression.

Local and regional media are a vital part of our democracy – we take our responsibilities seriously and uphold an extremely high set of journalistic standards, underpinned by the law of the land and effective IPSO regulation.

In my view, it is essential that MPs vote down these proposals, which pose such a grave danger to us.

David Powles, Editor, Eastern Daily Press and Norwich Evening News

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