We need your help to see off threat to a free press

The News, like all local papers, is here to serve its local community. We stand up and fight for you, championing and cheerleading your causes, or challenging power '“ whether elected or financial.

Thursday, 22nd December 2016, 6:00 am
Updated Thursday, 29th December 2016, 3:11 pm

But there is a threat on the horizon to our – and all newspapers’ – ability to do so, and today we ask for your help.

The problem is Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act, a new law that will mean newspapers can be liable to pay costs in libel cases – even if they win.

So if a newspaper is sued but wins the case by proving in court that a councillor did take bribes, or that a businessman did break planning rules, we could still have to pay their legal costs, which could be substantial.

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The net result? In harsh economic times, fearless journalism – which until now has been protected and encouraged under British law – will suffer. We may not be able to afford to take the risk.

The government has proposed this law for all publications that do not sign up to a state-approved regulator. But a state-approved regulator is anathema to a free press, and in any case we already have a regulatory body, Ipso, which is doing a good job. Ipso holds newspapers to account – it carries out the balancing act of protecting individuals while maintaining freedom of expression, and does it well.

Section 40 is bad law. It goes against centuries of precedent in English law. It is self-evidently unfair. It will make journalism timid, not better. It will mean that publishers are less able to expose wrongdoing, for fear of being bankrupted – even if they are convinced, and can prove, that they are right. It will mean that wealth, not truth, will prevail.

But there is something we – and you – can do. While the law has been passed by parliament, it has not been approved by the Culture Secretary Karen Bradley. A consultation is under way about Section 40, and closes on January 10.

Go to the consultation, and make your views known. It’s easy to fill in, and today we publish a guide to it. We’re here to fight for you, but today we need you to fight for us.