PM Restates Commitment to Overturn Lords Data Protection Bill Clauses

Prime Minister Theresa May has restated her commitment to overturn clauses added to the Data Protection Bill which would force newspapers to pay all the legal costs for data protection claims even if their journalism was vindicated by the courts.  

Speaking to members of the Johnston Press editorial board at a meeting in Leeds this week, Mrs May also said she wanted to create a “fair playing field” for local media in the digital advertising environment, as part of the review into the sustainability of the news media industry which will begin next month.

In response to a question from Jeremy Clifford, Johnston Press editor-in-chief, about whether she planned to change the way in which Facebook and Google were regulated in the way they curated news stories, Mrs May said: “These platforms say ‘We are just platforms’, others will say ‘No, you’re not, you’re a publisher.’

“Maybe there is actually a third category, something else that best describes what they do that starts to find some way in terms of looking at their liability rather than them just being able to say ‘Well, it’s nothing to do with us.’”

She added: “We have to look at how we can properly describe these organisations,” The News in Portsmouth reported.  

Mrs May also confirmed to the editors that the Government remained committed to overturning a Section 40-style clause added to the Data Protection Bill in the House of Lords which would force newspapers who weren’t signed up to state-sponsored regulator IMPRESS to pay the legal costs of claimants in data protection actions, regardless of whether they won or lost the case in court.

Mrs May said: “I have sat down on a number of occasions with my local paper and have heard from them direct about their concerns that it would have a huge impact on them. ‘We will be looking to overturn the amendment when we get an opportunity.”

MPs have spoken out in defence of press freedom this week, pledging to protect a free press.  North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham has pledged support to overturn the Lords amendments, telling the Lynn News that the Section 40-style clause was “Orwellian.”

Sir Henry said: “This is an erosion of the press freedom. If you don’t have an independent judiciary and an elected parliament that can be held to account by a free and fair press then you do not have a democracy.

“And you can see many examples around the world of so-called democracies where this has happened,” he added.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s suggestion this week that tighter controls on the press are needed following stories about him in the national press has also prompted politicians and journalists to defend free speech. 

column published The Herald in Scotland today says: “Besides being an ugly threat, the ‘change is coming’ video does no favours to Mr Corbyn in other ways. It makes it seem as though he, and those advising him, do not trust the public to make their own minds up about what they read, that they are somehow easily led, in the grip of a greater power than their own reason.

“While it may be flattering to some in the media to think they have such power, all one can say as a veteran of more years in newspapers than I care to divulge, is ‘Do come off it.’ If people read something they think is wrong or unfair, they can complain to the paper, contact the Independent Press Standards Organisation, take legal action, or just stop buying.

Columnist Alison Rowat wrote: “Those who have read the recent stories about Mr Corbyn will have taken in his unequivocal denial of the claims made against him. If he wants to say more, any newspaper or broadcaster in the land is ready and waiting for an interview.

“It is to be hoped that the Labour leader will, on reflection, reckon there are better ways he can use his time than going to war against the press via a Twitter video. If he does not, and he carries on with his “change is coming” campaign, he will be keeping company not with the majority but with a certain political leader across the Atlantic, one who thought it was a good idea to react to perceived bullying by giving the same treatment back. It is not.”

At the meeting with the meeting with the Prime Minister at the Yorkshire Post headquarters in Leeds, Gary Shipton, Johnston Press deputy editor in chief, welcomed Mrs May’s comments.

He added: “It would have a real chilling effect because there is a journalist exemption under data regulation which enables us to carry out investigations but also enables us to report that Mrs Miggins won the raffle at the WI meeting.

“If there was a Section 40-style costs arrangement, local newspapers would be utterly neutered and made anodyne as a result of that. That is why it is so critical to us.”