Local newspapers have an extremely important role in shining a light on corruption, danger and crime in their communities. This is not a job likely to be picked up by anyone else should those newspapers close. They do this in an increasingly difficult financial environment.
They report on court cases, the costs of local services and interrogate local officials. Once our local press dies that these essentials will probably go unreported.
The public should be aware that today is the last day that they can make clear to the government that Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 is not acceptable in a modern democracy that believes in a free press. This is a bizarre law that punishes truthful reporting by making newspapers and magazines of all sizes and shapes pay the legal costs of a law suit that proves that their reporting is accurate and should not be given a place in our legal system.
This could have extremely dangerous effect on our local newspapers that’s why so many local newspaper editors have spoken about their fears for the future if Section 40 is triggered.
Here’s how some local newspapers have responded to Section 40.
Cambrian News: Join us in the crucial fight to protect your right to know
“Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act is an obscure piece of legislation for the public, but its implementation could force newspapers and magazines to pay both sides’ costs in privacy and libel cases, even if they successfully defend a legal action by showing their reporting was accurate and publication was in the public interest.
“A government consultation, which closes on Tuesday, is seeking opinions on whether or not to put costs orders under Section 40 into operation.
“This flies in the face of fundamental rights of the freedom of the press, freedom of expression, the public’s right to receive information, and the first principle of justice – that it should be fair.”
“It is no secret that the regional press operates in a very challenging commercial environment as we transition from being a print focused industry (where our revenues have been in decline for a number of years) into a digitally led business.
“The huge disruption in our industry has made the job of serving regional audiences harder, and it has been getting harder for the best part of a decade.
“I urge you to join me in opposing Section 40 of the Courts and Crime Act, a piece of legislation that would empower those who seek wrongdoing from the eyes of the public and add a huge financial risk to regional newspapers.”
Express & Star: Editor Keith Harrison on why we need you to speak up for us now
“Essentially, this is a piece of legislation that would mean newspapers paying the costs for anyone who wants to sue them – whether they are successful or not.
“It would lead to a raft of spurious complaints made by people unhappy with something they have seen in print, who could challenge matters all the way up to the High Court, safe in the knowledge that if they eventually lose the case . . . the newspaper will pay their costs.
“Not only is this lunacy, it is dangerous lunacy.”
Maidenhead Advertiser: Don’t let politicians kill off your local papers
“Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 will mean newspapers that refuse to join the state-approved press regulator IMPRESS will have to pay the costs of both sides in civil cases like libel – even if they win.
“The costs will be ruinous for the local press and even national newspapers will be dissuaded from running contentious stories that could result in legal action.
“The most solid defence against a libel action is that a story is true.
“Section 40 undermines this crucial pillar of British justice and with it brings the whole house crashing down on the role of newspapers to inform the public without fear or favour.”
Nottingham Post: Resist this threat to your local newspaper’s survival
“The terrible revelation that murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler had her mobile phone hacked by national newspaper journalists quite rightly caused public outrage.
“But rather than demanding to know why the long-standing criminal laws that prevent phone-hacking had not been enforced and guilty parties prosecuted, politicians instead started a process that could well diminish Britain’s freedom of the press.”
Shropshire Star: Join the Shropshire Star’s fight to keep free press
“But if the Government decides to go ahead and put Section 40 into action, it is something that will affect every single reader of this newspaper – because it will place draconian constraints on what information we can and can’t share with you. In short, it means we could be punished for telling the truth.
“Stories such as the controversy about the Future Fit hospital proposals, the troubles of Shropshire Council’s IP & E venture, and the fall-out from the Operation Chalice investigation into child sex abuse could all become a thing of the past if the Government chooses to activate Section 40.”