Since my blog about the new threat to press freedom yesterday, and the notorious Section 40 being consulted on by the government, responses have been coming in thick and fast. A few of you have copied me in to emails sent to Karen Bradley, the Culture Secretary, many of them rather brilliant. More importantly, I've been contacted by a software designer who has agreed to make a form that we can use to send a template response to the government's consultation.
This leaves us with one question: what form of words? One form has been created, here. But all you really need to do is mention Section 40 and a new Leveson report and officials are obliged to record your response.
Here are three responses. If you want to add your own, leave it in the comments section of this blog or email me at email@example.com. I'll update as we go along and we'll take a vote later, then pick the winner tomorrow.
Dear Mrs Bradley,
I was appalled to read about the proposed Section 40 which appears designed to debilitate the ability of the press to hold the powerful to account. I understand that a consultation is in process as to whether the press should be told to submit to a regulator funded by a celebrity S&M fetishist. We need a free and, yes, a hostile press to keep you lot honest. Please bin this ludicrous proposal.
ENTRY TWO (a version of the above submitted by someone claiming to be from Impress)
Dear Mrs Bradley,
Britain does not have the luxury of constitutional right to freedom of speech like the USA. What freedom we do have is under attack by a rich man does not like the idea that a free press published the story of a woman he employed for his orgies. He is now using his wealth to ensure that the press are not capable of exposing the misdeeds of the rich and famous. This is not what law should be about.
The manifestly unfair idea of Section 40, that a media publication should have to pay the legal costs of the party that chose to sued them, even when they lost a case of defamation, is grotesque and perverse in the extreme and has no place in English law. The proposals would mean that no publication could hold corrupt officials to account, as there would be a huge incentive for a party challenged by the media to do a Tim Yeo. That is to say: to revert to law, in order to ensure that the media outlet incurred crippling cost, even when they were right. And that the prospect of this cost would stop them from report the corruption in the first place. This simply cannot be right.This is something that matters to us all, and should not be at the whim of Max Mosley. Ordinary people rely on the press to expose the corruption of our elites.
It is hard to believe that Section 40 is being considered in any democracy, let alone ours. How could you even contemplate forcing a newspaper (or anyone) to pay the costs of being sued even when they are wrongly sued? Think about the implication: Britain would be the only democracy where this basic legal protection is seen not as a right, but as a privilege – to be withdrawn by the state from groups it wishes to harass. The idea is repugnant, and Section 40 ought to be repealed.
You also ask about another Leveson inquiry. No one doubts that many of your fellow politicians who would like to harass the press some more, in revenge for the expenses investigation. But the phone hacking scandal has been subject to the largest police investigation in British history. There is nothing that could be gained by yet another Leveson inquiry, other than further harassment of print journalists. Which is, doubtless, the real intention from the many MPs
Think about the biggest scandals of the last few decades. Think about who uncovered them: almost every time, it was newspapers. Press freedom protects all of us. So please repeal Section 40, which offends any sense of national justice, and desist from the harassment of the press via Leveson inquiries or any other devices which you might be considering. A free press will mean that your colleagues feel a sense of trepidation when filing an ambitious expenses claim, or meeting an energy company offering you money on the side. But that's the way we like it.
Dear Mrs Bradley,
The corruption rife at FIFA, the systematic Russian doping scandal, the expose of Big Sam, Volkswagen, Sports Direct - all exposed by our print media. It is hardly fathomable that as the Culture Secretary, you could argue that Section 40 would improve our culture. Do you wake up each morning fretting that the powerful are too vulnerable, too open to criticism? Because that is surely the required motivation to explain Section 40.