Data Protection Bill must protect press freedom, free speech groups say
15 Mar 2018

Press freedom groups have urged the parliamentary committee considering a proposed new UK data protection law to drop amendments that would force news publishers to sign up to a state-backed regulator or face potentially crippling costs.

The Data Protection Bill had its second reading in the House of Commons on March 5 and now passes to the committee stage where it will be scrutinised by a cross party committee of MPs.

“The amendments proposed by the Lords reintroduce measures that the government has just said it plans to axe from legislation,” said Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive of Index on Censorship.

On March 1 the UK government said it would not enforce Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act. Had this section been enforced it would have meant that any organisation that refuses to sign up to a state-backed regulator could have faced crippling court costs in any dispute, whether they won or lost a case. 

“We remain concerned about the prospect of this worrying cost-shifting provision under any guise. These measures threaten press freedom, and have no place in the Data Protection Bill,”  said Rebecca Vincent, UK Bureau Director for Reporters Without Borders.

Clauses 168 and 169 of the Data Protection Bill effectively reintroduce the now defunct section 40 via another route because they would force all those news organisations who choose not to join a state backed regulator to pay the costs of data protection actions, even if the claim is unjustified.

Faced with the threat of crippling costs even if the courts found in their favour, news outlets might shy away from important public interest investigations.

Speaking during a Lords debate on the amendments earlier this year, crossbench peer Lord Pannick said the measures would have a “chilling effect”on the industry.

Antonia Byatt, Director of English PEN said: “We must make certain that in ensuring we respect an individual’s right to privacy we do not trample all over our free expression rights.”


Index welcomes announcement on Section 40

Index on Censorship welcomes the announcement that the government will not implement Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013.

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The trend towards ramping up the regulation of the media has worrying implications.

Section 40: Local newspapers respond to “dangerous lunacy”

Local newspapers have an extremely important role in shining a light on corruption, danger and crime in their communities.

If another country had a press law like Section 40, Britain would condemn it for persecuting journalists

For years Index of Censorship has monitored state interference in news reporting, from the authoritarian Chile in 1970s to North Korea today.

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