Lords Reject Attack on Creative Industries  

Peers have comprehensively rejected a series of proposals which would cripple investigative journalism and seriously harm a wide range of other creative endeavours such as broadcasting, academic research, film-making and book publishing.

Speaking in a debate on the Data Protection Bill in the House of Lords last night, Lord Black of Brentwood and other peers backed Government amendments to safeguard journalistic exemptions to the data protection regime, after concerns were raised by the industry.  

Peers sided with the Government to strongly reject amendment 50a tabled by Baroness Hollins, Crossbench, which Viscount Colville of Culross, Crossbench, said “would cause huge problems for journalists, authors and academics.”

Lord Black, chairman of the News Media Association’s legal, policy and regulatory affairs committee, said of the amendments: “Above all, they would create a deeply repressive data protection regime for all those involved in journalistic, academic, literary and artistic activities.

“It is not only journalists on national newspapers, who are so clearly targeted by these amendments, who would be punished but the local press, broadcasters, academics, film producers, playwrights, book producers and many others.

“As they all use data regularly in the course of their activities, it would make their day-to-day work almost impossible. This House, which contains so many people drawn from academia, the arts and the world of literature—I see many around me here today—has always prided itself on championing the UK’s creative industries.

“How ironic that we should even be debating these repressive amendments, which would be a body blow to the entire sector. They would place all those who work in it—many tens of thousands of people—at a huge disadvantage compared with their colleagues and competitors in the rest of Europe and elsewhere in the world.​”

In the debate, Lords spoke out against other proposals which would dramatically increase the power of the Information Commissioner to interfere in the journalistic process and force newspapers to join the Press Recognition Panel-recognised regulator IMPRESS in order to qualify journalistic exemptions from the data protection regime.  

Lord Black said it was fundamentally unlawful to punish someone who has done nothing wrong. He said: “What all these many thousands of publications have in common is not that they have been going around intruding on individual privacy, or listening to people’s voice mails, or harassing people – but simply that they do not want to be part of a system of regulation established by the state and changeable by politicians, but part of a system of self regulation which has existed in this country for 300 years and is recognised across the free world as being central to even the most basic concept of press freedom.

“Given that the choice of publishers to be part of the Independent Press Standards Organisation and not of Max Mosley’s regulator – is both principled and lawful, it is impossible to see how singling them out for special treatment could even be compatible with the ECHR and indeed the Fundamental Charter of Human Rights.”

Lord Pannick said the amendments were not concerned with promoting press freedom but instead pursued a “different agenda” of encouraging newspapers to join IMPRESS or to punish the press for the wrongdoing of some of its members.

“I say to noble Lords that that should not be the concern of this Bill, which should focus on protecting freedom of information in relation to data,” Lord Pannick added.

Lord Finkelstein attacked attempts to force newspapers to join IMPRESS through the data protection regime “a diversion from the public interest” and there is “no public pressure” for it. He added: “The behaviour of the staff and board of Impress, the body the panel has approved, shows quite clearly the agenda being followed.

“Its chief executive has been sharing views such as: ‘John Lewis is bringing its name into disrepute by advertising in a Neo-Fascist rag’ and: ‘I do like @StopFundingHate’s campaign to defund racist media.’

“This means it cannot claim to be the independent regulator the noble Lord, Lord Low, talked about. This is apparently acceptable as charter-approved behaviour, yet some noble Lords are critical that national newspapers are suspicious of the charter and fear Impress.”

Speaking out against the proposals, Baroness Cavendish of Little Venice highlighted the threat to local newspapers and said the amendments would be “a gift” to those seeking to cover up their activities.

She added: “Delay is an enormously powerful weapon – do not underestimate it – when people are up against newspapers; do not forget about local newspapers, which sometimes have extremely limited resources.”

Responding to another group of amendments tabled by Baroness Hollins designed to restrict crucial journalistic exemptions to IMPRESS members Lord Keen of Elie, speaking for the Government, rejected the proposals.

He added: “Whatever the motive or the intention behind these amendments, they are, I am afraid, either wrecking amendments or amendments designed to force publishers to sign up to a regulator to which they object—and that is not acceptable.”

Lord Black said the proposals would stifle “the whole of the local press, from the Maidenhead Advertiser – a great newspaper – to the Barnsley Chronicle, and many thousands of magazines such as Reader’s Digest, Country Life and Angling Times.”

He added: “What these many thousands of publications have in common is not that they have been intruding on individual privacy, harassing people or anything of that kind, but simply that they do not want to be part of a system of regulation established by the state and changeable by politicians.”

Baroness Wheatcroft, Conservative, said: “I do not believe that the British public wish to see all media tarred with that scandal. Neither do I believe that the British public, who are an inherently fair group of people, wish to see all media straitjacketed into joining an inappropriate regulator.

“I cannot resist echoing my noble friend Lord Black in his use of the word “bullying”; that is exactly how it feels. On the whole, I do not think that the British public would go along with bullying on that scale.”

The amendments attacking the press were withdrawn last night although Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, Labour spokesman, said: “I have an amendment, Amendment 165, to be taken on Wednesday 10 January—buy your tickets now—which will rehash a lot of our discussion today. It is focused on running a proper inquiry into what needs to happen now to deal maturely with the issues which the press does not wish to be regulated.”

As laid out in the response to the Government consultation on press regulation, the national, regional and local press industry is united in its opposition to Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act and the reopening of the Leveson Inquiry.