Newspaper editors call on MPs to reject curbs to press freedom in Data Protection Bill

09th May 2018

Senior editors from across the regional newspaper industry have joined forces to urge MPs to vote against press freedom curbs in the Data Protection Bill today.

Matt Kelly, chief content officer of this newspaper’s publisher Archant, was one of several senior editorial figures who have spoken out against the amendments by Tom Watson MP, deputy leader of the Labour Party, and Ed Miliband MP, which would bring costs sanctions into force and kick off a sprawling and costly inquiry into all the media.

Mr Miliband’s amendment would establish a new statutory inquiry into all media organisations, drawing in all broadcast, print or online media and journalists and inevitably resulting in more measures damaging to free speech.

Mr Watson wants to introduce draconian Section 40 costs sanctions into the data protection regime, requiring publishers to pay all the claimants’ costs of legal actions brought against them as well as their own, win or lose. Despite modifications purporting to exempt local papers, the cost sanctions would still impact on 85 per cent of the local press.

Archant’s Matt Kelly said: “We are deeply concerned by the effect the Section 40 costs sanctions and proposed inquiry would have on our business. MPs must stand up for the local newspapers and local democracy by decisively rejecting both measures today.”

Meanwhile, the chairman of industry body News Media Association has said attempts to use the data protection regime to stifle freedom of speech pose a grave threat to local newspaper journalism which does so much good in our society.

Speaking to journalists during a visit to local newspapers in Chichester, chairman David Dinsmore praised local papers “as a force for good in our society” but warned of the dangers if MPs fail to reject the Data Protection Bill amendments.

David said: “Next week is Local Newspaper Week, when we will all be celebrating the power of local newspapers to make a real difference to the communities they serve. It is deeply ironic then that, today, in the run up to the Week, our elected representatives in the House of Commons are set to consider amendments which would cripple local and national newspapers.

“It is essential that they are resisted. Press freedom is already at an all-time low in this country and these further restrictions would irreversibly damage freedom of speech in this country.”

In an anonymous survey of local newspaper editors conducted by the News Media Association, 92 per cent of respondents said they did not think another “Leveson-style” inquiry into the media should take place with the remaining eight per cent saying they weren’t sure. Not one of the 68 survey respondents thought the inquiry should go ahead.