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[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship welcomes the announcement by Secretary of State Matthew Hancock that the government will not implement Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013.
Implementing Section 40 would have meant that Index, which refuses to sign up to a state-backed regulator – and many other small publishers – could have faced crippling court costs in any dispute, whether they won or lost a case. This would have threatened investigative journalists publishing important public interest stories as well as those who challenge the powerful or the wealthy.
We have argued consistently that Section 40 is a direct threat to press freedom in the UK and must be scrapped. This part of the act, created as a response to the Leveson Inquiry into phone hacking, has been on the statute for several years but was not enacted because — until 2016 — there was no approved regulator of which publishers could be part. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Don’t lose your voice. Stay informed.” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_separator color=”black”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship is a nonprofit that campaigns for and defends free expression worldwide. We publish work by censored writers and artists, promote debate, and monitor threats to free speech. We believe that everyone should be free to express themselves without fear of harm or persecution – no matter what their views.
Join our mailing list (or follow us on Twitter or Facebook) and we’ll send you our weekly newsletter about our activities defending free speech. We won’t share your personal information with anyone outside Index.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″]
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]In recent years, there has been a perceptible increase in far-reaching restrictions on the media across the globe. This impulse to restrain media freedom stems from a variety of real and perceived “threats” – from concerns about national security, to demands for media “ethics” and “responsibility”, to accusations of the media’s role in the dissemination of so-called “fake news”, most recently. The urge of states to regulate is also reinforced by the overall devaluation of the critical role played by a free and independent media across liberal democracies around the world.
The trend towards ramping up the regulation of the media has worrying implications in these states and others who are currently considering a similar response: the inability of the media to perform its role as a – if not, the – key public watchdog, the erosion of states’ international legal obligations and political commitments on freedom of expression, and a lessening of freedom of the media as a whole.
Under international law, specifically Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, states do not have free reign to control the media. Limitations on media freedom, as an aspect of freedom of expression, are allowed only in certain, narrowly defined circumstances, such as national security or the protection of privacy. However, a great many governments are currently approaching media regulation as though restrictions may be imposed at the complete discretion of states regardless of international law and commitments.
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[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]There have been moves to exert political control over how the media is regulated in a number of OSCE participating states. Take, for example, the January 2016 decision by Poland in a move reminiscent of Hungary’s media law reforms of 2012, to enact a law handing over the power to appoint and dismiss members of management boards of public service broadcasters, Polski Radio and Telewizja Polska, from the National Broadcasting Council to the government. I warned, before the adoption, that the legislation “endanger[s] the basic conditions of independence, objectivity and impartiality of public service broadcasters”.
Anxieties about the effects of media regulation on media freedom are not limited to transitional or newer democracies, however, as the recent debate around the implementation of section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 in the UK, a traditional bastion of press freedom, suggests. As I have noted, the commencement of the provision would have punitive effects on the press for reporting on public interest issues in the UK, and have an especially onerous impact up on local and regional newspapers who are already facing significant financial challenges. It would also mean that the UK as a long-standing bastion of press freedom would send out a negative message to other states on the possibilities to regulation.
The picture is not all bad, of course. Some states have made significant positive strides in advancing freedom of the media by engaging with my office on legislative amendments, such as the government of the Netherlands on its draft Law on the Intelligence and Security Services, while others have shown advances in terms of case-law, such as Norway on the protection of sources.
Unfortunately, however, the dominant trend is a regressive one – towards control of the media rather than the reinforcement of it through, among other things, the promotion of media self-regulation and pluralism. This tendency of states to try and control the media is not just a matter of concern for my office, other international institutions, the media itself and civil society organisations. It is one that should worry all those who care about democratic values, the rule of law and human rights.
Dunja Mijatović is the Representative on Freedom of the Media for the OSCE, based in Vienna.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1484907257319-fb6254e3-0fad-6″ taxonomies=”6380″][/vc_column][/vc_row]
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.
“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.”
Read the full Cambrian News article
“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.”
Read the full Cambridge News article
“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.”
Read the full Express & Star article
“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.”
Read the full Maidenhead Advertiser article
“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.”
Read the full Nottingham Post article
“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.”
Read the full Shropshire Star article[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_cta h2=”TAKE ACTION” h2_font_container=”font_size:30|color:%23dd3333″ shape=”square” color=”grey” use_custom_fonts_h2=”true”]
The Rt Hon Karen Bradley MP
Department for Culture, Media and Sport
100 Parliament Street
London SW1A 2BQ
Add your voice to the consultation on the Leveson Inquiry and its implementation[/vc_cta][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1483963575538-ea4de372-7b3e-9″ taxonomies=”8996″][/vc_column][/vc_row]
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]This article originally appeared in The Telegraph on 3 January 2017
For years Index of Censorship has monitored state interference in news reporting, from the authoritarian Chile in 1970s to North Korea today. With a history of scrutinising government pressure on media, we were never going to join Impress, the new state-approved UK press regulator.
There should always be a clear distance between any government and journalists that report on it. Again and again Index has reported how governments have set up bodies that stop the media covering stories they don’t like.
In Zimbabwe, the 2002 Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act requires all journalists and media companies to register. Unlicensed journalists can face criminal charges and a sentence of up to two years in prison.
Last year the Turkish government has forced the closure of news outlets including Zaman and the Cihan News Agency. As our Mapping Media Freedom project has reported, dozens of journalists have been arrested. In Syria we have seen a systematic stifling of reporting.
Meanwhile in the UK, the Government is considering triggering Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act, which will ratchet up pressure to self-censor. This repressive legislation would pressurise newspapers to avoid the controversial and not publish things others would rather were not heard.
If such laws were introduced in another country, British politicians would be speaking out against such shocking media censorship. There’s no doubt that authoritarian powers will use this example to bolster their own cases in imposing media regulation.
As the leading media lawyer Mark Stephens has pointed out, this could mean that if a Somalian warlord sued a British publisher for something stated in an entirely truthful report, the publisher could still be ordered to pay the warlord’s costs when he lost the case for defamation. Section 40 has been on the statute book for three years but was not triggered because there was no approved regulator of which publishers could be part.
That changed when Impress, a regulator to which so far only tiny local media publishers have signed up, was approved in October.
Having an approved regulator means Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act could now be brought into force and that we and many other small publishers could face crippling costs in any dispute, threatening investigative journalism or those who challenge the powerful or the wealthy.
Newspapers and magazines need to be able to tackle controversial subjects, and hold the powerful to account, whether they choose to join Impress or not. In every issue, Index covers stories of corruption, of threats to writers or journalists and physical violence against people telling the truth. If threats of massive, unreasonable legal costs hang over newspapers and magazines then investigative journalism will be further squeezed.
Local daily newspaper editors are horrified by Section 40 and what it may to do to news gathering. Michael Sassi, editor of the Nottingham Post, warned: “Our future could be seriously compromised if either the proposed Section 40 were to become law or we were forced to submit to a government-sponsored regulator. Section 40 could encourage an avalanche of complaints because of the profoundly unfair clause that would force us to pay complainants’ costs – win or lose.”
As George Orwell said: “In times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” At times like this the Government must be even more vigilant about standing up for freedom of expression. If it fails to do so, it will undoubtedly be held up by other nations as an example they can follow.
Culture Secretary Karen Bradley is consulting on whether this chilling law should be activated. She told MPs last month that a number of editors of local newspapers were concerned that the exemplary damages section could put out them of business and certainly “would impact on their ability to do investigative journalism”.
That is an understatement. Section 40 is a direct threat to press freedom in the UK and must be scrapped.
Rachael Jolley is the editor of the Index on Censorship magazine
This article originally appeared in The Telegraph on 3 January 2017[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1484058713590-29d066e3-327e-3″ taxonomies=”8996″][/vc_column][/vc_row]