New Report Calls for Immediate Action to Prevent Free Speech Chill

An independent report launched by the Free Speech Network calls for immediate action to be taken to prevent free speech in Britain from being irreparably damaged in the repressive “post-Leveson regime” which “menaces newspapers” and chills free speech.

Launched this morning, the ‘Leveson’s Illiberal Legacy’ report by free speech campaigners Helen Anthony and Mike Harris warns that the British press faces “most substantial threat to its freedom in the modern era” as legislation designed to coerce the press to join a state approved regulator comes into force in the coming weeks.

 “Action must be taken now to protect the freedom of the press. In November, the chilling legislation will start to bite and publishers will be less free to speak truth to power. To prevent this, the relevant parts of the Crime and Courts Act must be repealed and the Royal Charter annulled,” the report says. 

“To further protect the freedom of expression of the press, a public interest defence should be introduced in all relevant statutes, the current position of requiring court orders for the police to access journalistic material must be retained, and the definition of the public interest in advice from the Information Commissioner’s Office concerning data protection must be broadened.”

The report was launched at an event in London at which Lord Black of Brentwood, chairman of the News Media Association’s legal, policy and regulatory affairs committee and Telegraph Media Group executive director, Tim Luckhurst, Professor of Journalism at the University of Kent, and the report’s authors all spoke.

Writing the report’s foreword Professor Luckhurst notes that provisions in the Crime and Courts Act 2013 create a “repressive system of press regulation” which could be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

“Eminent QCs warn that the exercise of these provisions would be likely to breach Article 10 of the ECHR. The dire possibility arises that newspapers – and struggling local titles in particular – may be driven out of business for daring to remain loyal to the internationally cherished principle that a newspaper should not submit to regulation by a body approved or licensed by the state,” Professor Luckhurst writes.

“In attempting to implement Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendation that exemplary damages should be available against news publishers ‘in actions for breach of privacy, breach of confidence and similar media torts as well as for libel and slander’, the Crime and Courts risks embarrassing the country royally.

“It menaces newspapers with a form of collective punishment for daring to insist upon the independence that allows their readers to trust them. It subjects them to rules expressly intended to impose requirements above and beyond those required by law.”

The detailed 55-page report says that the Leveson Inquiry was flawed from the outset because of a lack of balance in the selection of the assessors and “core participants.”

It highlights serious problems with Leveson’s recommendations such as exemplary damages in litigation, restricting contact between police and the press, arbitration and a narrowing of the exemption for journalism contained within the Data Protection Act.

“The failure of the Leveson Inquiry to consider the enormous challenge and opportunities that the internet poses to newspapers– the most significant technological development in journalism since the in vention of the telegram – has led to conclusions which place the UK’s press at a serious disadvantage to overseas outlets which are protected by constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression,” the report adds.