THE battle is on to protect the public’s right to know and to ensure that journalists, like those at the Cambrian News, can continue to inform the public about what is done in their name and with their money.
If it was not for newspapers, waste and inefficiency in public bodies, corruption and other crime might not be exposed.
Whistleblowers would have nowhere to go to reveal incompetence and wrong-doing in local communities and nationally.
Sadly, there are those who would be only too happy to see misbehaviour and misuse of public funds go unreported by restricting the press.
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.
The examples of the vital work of newspapers exposing facts and behaviour that some would prefer to keep secret from the public are many.
Just recently in the Cambrian News, for instance, we have revealed: The county council’s £2m bill for taxpayers after employing consultants to save them money; the naming of seven county councillors who had to be sent reminders for council tax arrears; and many more.
There are already tough libel laws and strict regulations that are hurdles the Press must overcome to expose inequity and now, this new law threatens their very existence – especially local and regional newspapers.
The Cambrian News is supporting The Society of Editors, which is launching a campaign with other media organisations urging anyone who values freedom of information and freedom of expression to respond to the government consultation on the ‘Leveson Inquiry and its implementation’ to oppose the introduction of a measure that would have a chilling effect on the public’s right to know in the UK.
Under the cover of the Leveson Inquiry that examined wrong-doing by a small number of journalists, which has already been dealt with in the criminal and civil courts, the new rules would penalise papers even if they prove in court that they had printed the truth to inform the public about matters they are entitled to know.
Implementing Section 40 and forcing newspapers to pay both sides costs would damage all newspapers and magazines and could cripple the local and regional press.
Newspapers will not be able to afford to take the risk with publication even when they know they are right and the public interest is clear. Whistleblowers would have no-one to help them expose wrong-doing
Cambrian News managing editor Bev Thomas said: “This is an issue that will affect everyone.
“The decision about the introduction of crippling costs orders would inhibit the ability of papers like the Cambrian News to inform their readers of issues that seriously affect their lives.
“We urge everyone, not just journalists and publishers, to respond to the consultation and to write to their MPs, to persuade politicians and the government to step back from a draconian measure that would take us back to the dark ages of press censorship, stifle freedom of expression and the public’s right to know what is done in their name and with their money.”
To respond to the consultation go to www.gov.uk/government/consultations/consultation-on-the-leveson-inquiry-and-its-implementation. The consultation closes on 10 January.