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with Matthew Paul ON TUESDAY (Jan 10), at 5pm,


the UK Government’s consultation exercise into Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 concluded. This dry and rather technical-looking provision, entitled 'Awards of costs', was enacted in 2013 but has not yet been brought into force. If it ever does come into force, what will section 40 do? Let us say a newspaper such as this

were to print a perfectly true story critical of an individual (imagine the hypothetical dictator of a small, backward country, and call him something like President Marc Jammeh). The tyrant doesn’t like the story, and wants the paper to retract it. Like most dictators, Jammeh is

well practised in using kangaroo court hearings to silence dissent. Jammeh knows the paper has him bang to rights, but he is encouraged by some recent decisions of libel courts in the UK, which suggest that even calling someone ‘Pinocchio’ is capable of amounting to defamation. So, Jammeh decides to try to

intimidate the paper into an apology and retraction by suing for libel. Naturally, his costs in the action are underwritten by his country’s beleaguered treasury. The paper won’t be intimidated, and both sides dig in to fight the case. At

trial, Mr Justice Tugendturnip reluctantly concludes that The Carmarthenshire Herald told the truth about Jammeh. His Lordship then proceeds, as section 40 (3) says he must, to order the paper to pay the loser’s costs. These amount to something like quarter of a million quid. The newspaper goes bust, and justice, section 40 style, is done. Happily, this miserable provision is

not yet in force. Section 40 (6) provides that the section 'does not apply until such time as a body is first recognised as an approved regulator'. When such a body is recognised, the papers have to sign up to it or section 40 will start to bite. Until very recently, no approved

regulator existed. As of October 25 last year, an organisation named IMPRESS was officially recognised by the Press Recognition Panel, a quango set up in the wake of the Leveson inquiry to do the useful job of regulating the other quangos who regulate the press. On its home page, IMPRESS boasts

that it will give publishers 'the freedom to report hard-hitting stories'. Why, thank you, IMPRESS. Thank you so much. It may not have occurred to these pompous panjandrums that the British press already enjoys the freedom to report hard-hitting stories, even without a quango’s blessing. IMPRESS will 'award a trusted

Repeal Section 40

journalism mark to news publishers who meet our standards'. What might these standards be? IMPRESS’ founder and CEO, Jonathan Heawood, gave us a hint in a letter dated March 26, 2014, published on the NUJ’s website. He moaned about the public’s 'declining trust in journalism', and called for a way to 'distinguish journalism from all the other online material'. In Heawood’s eyes, it appears that

good, earnest responsible, highbrow stuff in the Guardian and New Statesman is ‘journalism’. The crap that the chavs read on Buzzfeed or, gawd ‘elp us, Mail Online is what it must be distinguished from. Heawood has a bit of an issue with

The Daily Mail. He has shared posts on social media calling the Mail’s journalists 'fascists', the paper itself 'a neo-fascist rag', and shrieking that it is 'increasingly adopting fascist style politics'. It doesn't look as though Paul Dacre is in line for a trusted journalism mark. Unusually, despite his evident

distaste for fascism, Heawood has accepted £4m in funding for his ‘independent’ organisation (i.e. almost every penny it has) from someone who previously called for an end to 'coloured migration', while generously and reassuringly conceding that 'the Jew'

had nothing to fear from his vision of the future. Step forward, former Blackshirt fanboy Max Mosley. Mosley began his own crusade

against the press after being exposed in The News of the World for disporting himself with five tarts in a 'standard S&M prison scenario' (his lawyers’ words; presumably to distinguish this from the kinky sort of S&M prison scenario) which may have been German- speaking but, as Mr Justice Eady ruled, very definitely had nothing to do with Nazis. Mosley is now a vigorous enthusiast

for the thwack of firm press regulation. "Ein! Zwei! Drei! Ze Mail is eine SCHMUTZIGE LITTLE ZEITUNG! You vill be PUNISHED! Vier! Fünf! I vant zis to HURT!" IMPRESS tells us that it ultimately

hopes to replace the Mosley money with licensing fees paid by regulated publishers. As the type of publishers who have so far signed up to be regulated by Mosley’s mob include freesheets like The Caerphilly Observer, and other notable press moguls the Brixton Blog and The Ferret, we wish IMPRESS good luck in that aspiration. John Cleese, who was last funny

some time around 1978, has written a spectacularly unfunny puff piece for

section 4 0 ,

that it supports asserting the ‘little man’

against press barons. It does nothing of the sort, but it could do a lot to support big men who develop a grudge against a little paper. As local bloggers know, the UK

already has some of the most restrictive libel laws in the free world. There is no problem with access to justice in a well-founded case. The deck is already stacked in favour of libel claimants and if a member of the public wants to sue the likes of The Sun or The Daily Mail, it is not hard to find experienced solicitors

and counsel who will take the case on a no-win no-fee basis. Small independent publications like

The Carmarthenshire Herald, who value their independence and do not want to be ordered around by a quango, would be the real losers here, far more than the wealthy red tops. Although the consultation ended on

Tuesday, it is not too late to let your MP know what you think about section 40. Free speech matters, and people in power should be held to account by a free press. Don’t bring section 40 into force; repeal it.


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