Guest blog: The threat to press freedom

By Martin Wright, editor of the Shropshire Star

The consultation on Section 40 ended on Tuesday 10th January and I would like to thank all our readers who joined the fight against it to protect the freedom of our press. 

However, while the consultation may have ended, the threat remains. 

Martin Wright

If Culture Secretary Karen Bradley decides to implement Section 40, newspapers – including the Shropshire Star – would face the prospect of having to pay the legal costs for both sides in libel cases even if our reporting was vindicated in court. 

The News Media Association estimates it could cost the newspaper industry £100 million a year just for telling the truth.

The only way for newspapers to avoid this grossly unfair scenario is to sign up to a state backed regulator – which immediately raises the spectre of government interference. 

In any case, the only regulator with such recognition so far is Impress. It just so happens that Impress is funded by Max Mosley, a man with a history that calls into question his ability to be fair and objective when it comes to the press. The Shropshire Star is a member of Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso). Ipso – and I speak from experience – is a tough regulator that holds newspapers to account for their stories, and compels us to put things right if we are found to have breached the Editors’ Code of Practice. 

It has the power to impose fines of up to £1 million and is taken very seriously by editors of newspapers of all shapes and sizes. Ipso, which regulates almost all newspapers in this country, will not seek recognition under the Royal Charter. 

I received a letter this week from an AC Mitchell of Madeley. The letter stated: “Perhaps, the real reason that Ipso is unwilling to seek recognition is that it would be unable to meet the high standards required of a truly independent regulator?”

As far as I am concerned, Ipso is a “truly independent regulator” something that cannot be said, in my opinion, about Impress. To get back to the heart of our concerns, financial reality means that if Section 40 is implemented editors will be left with little choice but to pull the plug on stories if threatened with legal action. 

It is also worth noting, given the discussion in recent weeks and days, that many of the websites, social media outlets and blogs accused of publishing “fake news” would be unaffected by Section 40. That doesn’t seem particularly fair either.

Writing in the Evening Standard, Ipso chairman Sir Alan Moses summed up the situation succinctly: “There are those who would cheer to see the disappearance of some newspapers, whose views they discard. But we need an untamed, rumbustious press. We do not want to read pap. 

“Newspapers exercise their freedom of thought and expression because it is our freedom. We must look after it now that it is under threat – if we do not oppose Parliament’s intervention into a voluntary system of regulation it is we, the readers, who will suffer.”