Of course, there should be protections for those wronged by the press: but the threat of financial penalties on potential public interest journalism is not the way to do it. Far better is to encourage low-cost, easily accessible and swift redress for all.
Index does not believe any media organisation should be forced to sign up to a regulator – especially one that has state approval, no matter how arm’s length.
For the past five decades, we have monitored state interference in news reporting, from authoritarian Chile in the 1970s to North Korea today. With a history of scrutinising government pressure on media, we were never going to join Impress (currently the only state-approved regulator).
A free press is fundamental to democracy. Investigative and campaigning journalists have exposed scandals that have helped save lives: such as the work done by Index on Censorship’s patron, Sir Harold Evans, on the Thalidomide scandal while editor of the Sunday Times.
More recently, work by journalist Carole Cadwalladr at The Observer broke the Cambridge Analytica story wide open, while Amelia Gentleman’s reporting at The Guardian has driven the story on Windrush.
Without an environment in which such journalists are encouraged to report – without the fear that they might face costly court cases even for reporting stories that are true – who will hold the corrupt to account?
“It is easy to dismiss such concerns as the hysterical whinging of the mainstream media,” said Index on Censorship chief executive Jodie Ginsberg. “That would be a huge mistake. A genuinely free press – one in which both independent investigative journalist outfits and mainstream media organisations can operate – benefits everyone.”
We crush media freedom at our peril. The democratic gains being eroded in Turkey, Russia, Poland and Hungary and elsewhere have all been accompanied by a loss of press freedom: a freedom that is hard won but easily lost.
A version of this statement was first published on the Independent website.