It wasn’t only the EU nomenklatura who had their noses put out of joint in June 2016, when the British people rudely reminded the Euro-emperor of his embarrassing lack of clothes. Many members of the House of Lords, one suspects, equally resented the ordinary electors’ failure to vote as instructed by their betters, and the backing given to them in this refusal by a raucous, outspoken and undisciplined press that didn’t give two hoots for the views of established politicians.

All of which doubtless explains why their Lordships defiantly voted on last Wednesday to revive the Leveson proposals for press regulation. More specifically, they amended the Data Protection Bill to mandate a further inquiry into press intrusion, as recommended by Leveson in November 2012, and also to require any newspaper not signed up to an officially-approved regulator to bear all legal costs of both sides in any claims against them for misuse of data, even if the claimant is unsuccessful.

Both these demands amount to mischief-making, and both need to be resisted.

The first demand is simply pointless. Enough high-profile cases have reached the courts to give us a perfectly good idea of what went on. A further inquiry might unearth more of the same: but so what? Unless (perish the thought) the idea is that further revelations about the press might soften up Parliament and make it more receptive to serious curbs on the press’s ability to annoy the establishment, it is difficult to see that it would do anything other than cause needless expense, both to the press and to the public purse.

That leaves the second. It parallels an earlier proposal, enacted as part of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 but never brought into force and commendably rejected by the Conservative government in 2015, which would have done the same thing with claims for libel and breach of privacy. Unless signed up to an approved regulator, which among other things would make it mandatory for publishers to accept arbitration of such claims, a paper would have to pay both parties’ legal costs of any suit even if unsuccessful. This new move to shovel costs on to newspapers in data protection cases is objectionable for all the same reasons.

For one thing, it practically, if not legally, requires newspapers to belong to an organisation set up to sanction what they say and approved by a third party – a category at present containing only one body, the Max Mosley-sponsored Impress. (All respectable national newspapers are already members of the trade self-regulator IPSO, but this is not regarded as enough, despite the fact that it lays down strict standards and provides facilities for inexpensive arbitration). The alternative is a ruinous and entirely unfair liability to pay other people’s lawyers to bring proceedings against them even if those people have no case. To say, as did Earl Attlee and Lord McNally, that this does not amount to governmental regulation of the press because the organisation itself may be free of outside control is disingenuous in a way only the Left can be, and misses the point. For government to subject any news medium willy-nilly to an organisation with the power to pass judgment on what it prints amounts, as Index on Censorship pointed out, to governmental control.

For another, papers would be required to accept the jurisdiction of a body which not only provides arbitration for legal claims against them, but also has the power to fine or otherwise sanction them for acts that are not otherwise illegal. Impress, for example, has requirements for the reporting of matters relating to children; on the handling of issues of age, disability, mental health, gender reassignment, and for that matter any characteristic that makes someone vulnerable to discrimination, and so on. Any breach is potentially sanctionable. It is true that IPSO also has this power; but signing up to IPSO is voluntary. To make it essentially compulsory, on pain of potentially crippling legal liability, for a news medium to go beyond the strict requirements of the law and face fines for not doing do is unacceptable and incompatible with a free press.

For a third, papers would have to agree to abide by the recommendations of a body that can receive complaints not only from those directly affected by what it says, but from groups like charities or NGOs who claim to be their representatives. In short, they would have to agree to being potentially fined for saying things that offend pressure-groups rather than directly affect individuals or corporations. The chilling effect of this is easy to see on papers thinking of running articles or op-eds on controversial matters such as feminism, transgender rights or the alleged problems created by Islam (or fundamentalist Christianity).

It’s worth bearing in mind that many members of the House of Lords today have more in common with the discredited EU establishment than they might care to admit. Forgetting the rump of hereditaries, membership of the House today is by appointment, without election, the selection being made from among those who have done moderately well for themselves and are skilled at catching the eye of dispensers of political favour. With honourable exceptions, the result is a curious congeries of talkative technocrats and politicians past their best, all of them used to being taken at their word and resentful when anyone questions what they say. They might perhaps reflect on whether the movement that said no to their colleagues across the water in Brussels might some day move across to engulf them too.

28 COMMENTS

  1. Please don’t put “fundamentalist Christians” in the same sentence as “problems created by Islam”! Fundamentalist Christians live by the teachings of Christ who gave His life as a sacrifice for others. Islamic fundamentalists try to imitate a man who spread his personal beliefs by pillaging, attacking and invading all those who disagreed with him!

      • Thanks for taking the time to respond! I really liked your article by the way, as it highlights another totalitarian attempt by the “progressives” to silence dissenting opinion and control the media. My issue was simply that the false equivalence between Islamic and Christian fundamentalism is a very prevalent lie within the “progressive” narrative which seeks to aim the “guns of government” at Christians.

        • You’re welcome. The reason I mentioned both Muslims and Christians was simply to take the fight to the left: even on their terms of supposed equivalence, this proposal doesn’t make sense.

    • Well said ! SeriouslyChristian.

      Andrew – adding “alleged” still means you put “fundamentalist Christians” (people who may not even exist but be a mere fiction of the MSM) in the same sentence as Islam.

      It is true that most of my degrees and qualifications are in science and engineering but I am one of those odd people who have an MA in Theology from a University that specialises in both Christianity and Islam.

      4 years ago my youngest brother was made to kneel in the sand on the beach in Libya and shot through the head by an arabic gang. He had stayed too late celebrating new year that day and the sun had started to set when he was caught by the gang.
      The killing was even on the internet for a while.
      It was in all the national newspapers and the TV for some time.

      I saw my MP and discussed Leveson and complained about the press. I am an ordinary person but to put it in perspective – one of the two main TV companies tried to pretend they were invited to the funeral to get in and film it. Fortunately the staff had the sense to suggest to them clearly and strongly that they probably weren’t invited (they certainly weren’t) and yet they still filmed me receiving the coffin and taking it in.

      The other main British TV channel filmed me going in to the Inquest court.

      What the MSM – all of them in entirety reported was utterly untrue and deeply, deeply offensive to me an ordinary person. Bizarrely the local newspaper in the town where he had grown up was the only newspaper to tell the truth!

      At the inquest I discovered how the MSM all copy each other as if X can always say that this was what Y reported as some kind of justification for error and yet it is still a clear error.

      At the inquest there was several rows of reporters in the court. I didn’t spend time looking at them because I didn’t want to speak to them. The inquest happened at Shefford in Bedfordshire because the specialist post-mortem had happened at Bedford hospital. The coroner quite correctly said that my brother had been born in Sheffield (Yorkshire) and yet the reporters wrote down Shefford (Bedfordshire) …….He had probably never been there.

      One of the worst offending national newspapers has an item saying that they value the truth ….bla-bla-blah! So I wrote to them pointing out that both my elder brother and I had complained to them about the reporting. They wrote back saying they had no record of the complaint. Since British Anti-terrorist Police have copies of the entire correspondence with the said newspaper I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the stupidity of the paper in question.

      Andrew – there are at least 6 parts of the Quran that call for killing non-believers and since there are over 200 verses that call for violence against non-believers one could reasonably argue there are more than 6. There is also the permission given in the Quran for believers to openly lie to non-believers about Islam.

      In contrast, even for so-called fundamentalist Christians (and Jews), the OT and NT quite clearly gives the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” and similarly not lie.

      Thus there is NO comparison at all between Islam and Christianity.

  2. Leveson furthers the empowerment of third party mischief making which permits those agencies with an “activist” agenda to intervene in private matters in order to advance that agenda. They can complain on behalf of others, even nebulous or non-existent others. No good will come of that and the chilling effect and self censorship will do much harm to the dissenting voice. But that is as intended by the leftist collective that Leveson most strongly represents and who assume a mantle of absolute moral supremacy over everyone else.

  3. Freedom of the press is vital, as a part of free speech.
    I am becoming increasingly tired of the anti-democratic and elitist impulses of the Lords. It either needs to be radically reformed and shrunk or culled !

    • Before being tampered with from 1997 (of course) the Lords tended to act as a corrective to the intrusive nature of any new law, championing British freedom against any nanny tendency of the Commons. Now that they are stuffed full of party cronies, left wing activists or agitators and angst-driven, axe grinding Dames they have become part of the nanny tendency.

      • 1000 upvotes for your first phrase – how much of our laws have been tampered with since 1997 by New Labour and then by New-Labour-Lite (aka the coalition) and the CINOs (Conservatives In Name Only)?

        After Brexit, could we just go for a wholesale repeal of everything the Blair creature and his minions brought in? (or at least repeal where he removed perfectly good longstanding laws with his own dodgy ones?)

    • Since we bomb other countries that we claim are not democratic, why should
      we tolerate this distillation of all that is privileged , corrupt, & anti democratic in the UK ?

  4. Two things:-

    1. Although he is the grandson of a Labour Prime Minister, Lord Attlee is nominally a Conservative peer. It says a great deal about how careful one must be in inferring what a “Conservative” is likely to support that one such as Lord Attlee should choose to support such a tawdry and authoritarian measure as Leveson Through The Back Door.

    2. It is not “only” the Left that can be disingenuous – after all, the approved structure of all mainstream political communication these days is principally a technique which is no more than a disingenuous attempt to persuade the general public through rhetoric and misrepresentation that what are in reality no more than prejudicial feelings are much more than this; that they are the results of reasoned and intellectually valid thinking. What is fair, I think, is to say that unlike its opponents, the Left never makes any attempt whatsoever to argue its case from within the constraints of genuine reasoning and intellectual validity. Perhaps this is just habit, or perhaps it’s because deep down the Left realises that intellectual cheating is essential if its case is to hold its own within the confines of what is purportedly a reasoned discussion.

    Left and Right have lost all their usefulness as descriptions of political alliance. All modern politicians are at heart patricians, because an innate sense of superiority has become an essential character feature to be displayed before one is granted admission to the political arena. The important binary divide these days is between the large majority who are Patrician Dominators, and the relatively small number who are Patrician Representatives.

  5. If this happened, the newspapers would soon go out of business. For example the organisation that is trying to cause advertisers not to advertise with the Daily Mail (and no doubt other newspapers) in order to put them out of business could equally bring, at zero cost to themselves, a succession of dubious cases against the paper which would bankrupt it.
    It would also lead to more on-line news from foreign based sources which may or may not be fake news.
    Nobody ever seems to think things like this through to their logical conclusions.

    • “Nobody ever seems to think things like this through to their logical conclusions.”

      Consequentialism’s far too difficult for people who haven’t been taught how to think, or who have concluded that the road to fame is lined with brash simplisticisms. Far better to bet the house on emotive “solutions” that sound good, and then blame the inevitable negative consequences on someone or something else.

      • It always appalled me that so many people don’t try to see something from an opponent’s point of view as it can often give you a good guide as to your next move. None of them can have learnt to play chess!

        • Actually, the legislators of this particular provision did learn to play chess. There is a specific provision in the clause to ensure that the newspapers are not forced to meet all the costs in cases where it is not “just and equitable”. The provisions were, in fact, all very well thought through.

          • If they did wrong they should pay, quite rightly so.
            But if they are found to have done no wrong, under this new scheme, they would still have to pay the complainant’s costs which is contrary to natural justice.

          • This comment stream was about the idea that an organisation might be able to run “dubious claims” at the press’s expense and I was dealing with that point.

            What you say above goes back to the fundamental issue addressed in different comment strands. See, for example, my lengthy comment posted on 18 Jan. But, to answer you briefly, where is the natural justice in (i) wealthy newspapers being able to deter claimants who can’t afford legal fees and (ii) even wealthier individuals deterring the press from reporting criminal activity for fear that they (the press) will not be able to match the wealthy individual when it comes to paying for lawyers? The whole point of the Leveson proposal was to provide equality of arms by offering low-cost arbitration available to press and public alike.

          • I’m all for low cost arbitration, not only in this are, but also in various others. What I found objectionable was that a newspaper could be made to pay a loser’s costs which is surely contrary to natural justice. It also make malicious claims that much easier, and only the other day there were reports of an organisation trying to put a newspaper out of business by trying to deter companies from advertising in the newspaper concerned. This would be a gift to such fanatics.

          • If the newspaper’s regulator offers low-cost arbitration to claimants, the newspaper is completely protected from having to pay the claimant’s costs. And if the claimant chooses to fight in court, rather than arbitrating, the claimant has to pay both sides’ costs. So, if you are all in favour of low cost arbitration, I see no reason for you to oppose this proposal.

            I have already explained why the Stop Funding Hate campaign would be unable to take adavantage of this proposal. The law has been extremely well thought through – much more so than its more vocal opponents would have the public believe.

  6. This article makes several mistakes of fact and/or logic.

    First, Lord Justice Leveson did not recommend a second enquiry. He was appointed by the government of the day to carry out an enquiry in two parts. The second part was delayed whilst certain matters were sub-judice. The government of the day was well aware that criminal actions were ongoing and that Part 2 would need to be delayed. If the government had thought the prospective trials would be sufficient to address its concerns, it would not have commissioned Part 2. It did so because the issues which it wanted looked at in Part 2 would not be (and were not) addressed in the criminal trials, because the issues were systemic not specific to individual defendants.

    Second, the statement that a press regulator can “sanction” what the press says is open to mis-interpretation, because the word “sanction” can mean either giving approval in advance (ie the power to censor) or imposing corrective action after the event. The distinction in this context is crucial. A press regulator which has been consutituted in the manner alluded to above has no power at all to control what the news media may publish (pre-approval is expressly prohibited). The regulator can only comment, retrospectively, on what has already been published. Which brings us on to the third point.

    If as the author suggests “For government to subject any news medium willy-nilly to an organisation with the power to pass judgment on what it prints amounts … to governmental control”, it follows equally that subjecting the press to oversight by the courts in relation to libel and data protection matters (amongst others) is government control. There is no dispute that news media should be subject to some form of oversight. The issue under debate here is whether all oversight should be through the courts – with all the problems that entails of access to justice for those without sufficient funds – or should some of the oversight be through a body which has been constituted in accordance with certain agreed criteria (and been verified to be so constituted)? The author may think the answer to that question is No, but the article doesn’t put forward an argument for it. Indeed, it was the press themselves who advocate having a regulator, rather an extension to the law … and all parties in Parliament expressly agreed to that proposition in 2013.

    In short, there is no point of principle which underpins any objection to the House of Lord’s vote last week, only a belief that it’s OK for those without funds to be denied access to justice. It’s a point a of view. Not one I share. And those who do share it are (unsurprisingly) reluctant to own up to that view. They tend to hide under unsustainable arguments about government control. The reality is that the only press freedom under threat is the freedom to abuse.

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