Local Editors Reject New ‘Leveson-style’ Media Inquiry
Local newspaper editors across the industry have resoundingly rejected the idea of holding a new Leveson-style inquiry into all the media, pointing to the negative impact the original inquiry has had on local papers’ ability to report in the public interest.
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.
On Wednesday (9 May 2018), MPs will vote on an amendment to the Data Protection Bill tabled by Ed Miliband MP which 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.
A separate amendment by Tom Watson MP, deputy leader of the Labour Party, would introduce draconian 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.
A majority of respondents to the local editors survey said they had been threatened with the spectre of the Leveson Inquiry. Fifty-nine per cent of local editors said the Leveson Inquiry had been mentioned to them or their journalists by an individual, political party or politician making a complaint about a story, pre or post publication.
Sixty-five per cent of editors said it had become harder to access and publish information in the public interest since the publication of the Leveson Report in November 2012, with the remainder saying it was about the same.
Local editors also believe that the Section 40-style costs sanctions in the Data Protection Bill would seriously damage the industry. Sixty-nine percent of respondents said they thought some local newspapers would close if the amendment became law and 99 per cent said Section 40-style costs sanctions would make it harder to publish a local newspaper.
The NMA said: “The local editors survey has made very clear that local newspaper editors believe that another lengthy inquiry into the media should not proceed on the basis that it would be harmful to the sector.
“Local media is already trying to grapple with some serious challenges to its business model and the last thing the industry needs is for time, resource and talent to be diverted into dealing with a far-reaching, costly and unnecessary inquiry.
“The first part of the Leveson Inquiry spawned the draconian Section 40 costs shifting provisions and a further inquiry would undoubtedly create yet more restrictions on free speech which we would all have to battle. MPs must resoundingly reject these amendments in order to stand up for freedom of speech and a strong and sustainable local press sector.”
- The anonymous online survey was conducted in January 2018 and had 68 respondents from the NMA’s local editors mailing list.