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Regional media and free press could be the casualties of new legislation

December, 2016

If you could take someone who annoyed you to court with no fear about the costs, would you do it? Andrew Metcalf, director of Kent PR and marketing agency Maxim, considers the potential consequences of Section 40 on the nation’s media, including the county’s own regional press.

The reason for my question about taking someone to court is Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. If this is enacted it would see the media liable for both sides of court costs in libel and privacy cases – even if they are cleared of guilt.

This could sound the death-knell for the freedom of the press in this country, and survival of small regional publishers – not to mention the investigative magazine Private Eye, the national institution edited by Kent resident, Ian Hislop.

It would always be lose-lose for the publisher, even if they were right to have published the story, and the court case brought by the person for libel or privacy was deemed by the judge to be unfounded. A financially costly groundhog day.

I thought we lived in a country with a free press, one of the cornerstones of a democratic society. Evidently not.

We all know there are those in the press who have overstepped the mark of decency, the phone-hacking by some reporters on the News of the World and other national newspapers is proof of that. However, Section 40 seems like a very big stick to beat all the media, regardless of their size. Tarring all with the same brush does the regional media a massive disservice.

Easy to be offended

It’s easy for you or your business to believe you’ve been the subject of a negative report if it’s about something you don’t like, but the reality is reporters are doing their job: reporting. This includes giving both sides the opportunity to comment.

We all know most businesses don’t set out to be bad, and like everybody we all make mistakes, but the press must be free to report on what’s happened.

Having a situation where the press fears the financial repercussions of a possible trial because somebody objects to a story they may publish will kill impartial reporting by trained journalists and editors.

Regional publishers are already walking a financial tightrope and this could be another burden they can’t endure, with the prospect that many will close.

Section 40 is likely to be a licence to print money for the unscrupulous, who will be scouring the newspapers to find potential clients, much the same way injury lawyers do.

Fake news

Once the regional press is gone, it’s gone, and we’ll be left with inevitable fake headlines online. Why am I not surprised that according to a Buzzfeed survey, fake news headlines, such as ‘Pope Francis Shocks world, endorses Donald Trump for President’, fooled 75% of Americans all the time? They’re Americans I hear you all cry, but how many of our fellow countrymen fell for the recent ‘£350m a week more for the NHS’ line?

Without a strong free press – regardless of its political persuasion – we’ll find ourselves in a world slipping dangerously towards Orwellian newspeak, with freedom of speech and thought supressed, and the rise of Trumpesque post-truth politics and society.

Remember: “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” – George Orwell, 1984

If you feel strongly on the matter visit and give your views, or if you need more convincing, the KM Group sets their case against Section 40 here.

Andrew Metcalf - Director

Andrew Metcalf

Maxim / Managing Director

posted in: maxim/client news, media relations,

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