FORMER member of the Cabinet Owen Paterson is to lobby fellow MPs in a bid to halt controversial Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 which would have a devastating effect on local newspapers.
As reported by the Advertizer last week, under Section 40 of the Act newspapers would be forced to pay the legal costs of both sides of any court action – irrespective of the outcome of the case.
This would allown against any story in a newspaper, even if they were fully aware the action would have no chance of winning. Newspapers would have to foot legal bills running into thousands of pounds – even if they had done nothing wrong.
Advertizer editor Colin Channon said: “It’s not a nightmare scenario – it’s much, much worse than that.
“Say, for example, theTizer had evidence of a scam taking place in the area that was costing ordinary people thousands of pounds. We had all the paperwork, all the evidence, all the pictures – everything.
“And the wrong-doers, knowing they had been caught out, took legal action.
“Although the Tizer would win the court case, under Section 40 we would still have to pay the court costs for both sides. This could be an enormous sum – when the paper had acted entirely properly.
“It would leave the company deciding whether it could afford to publish the story in the first place – even though it would be a story that HAD to be told.”
Mr Paterson is a vehement opponent of Section 40 of the Act and he believes it would signal the end of many newspapers.
“What could they publish with the threat of expensive legal action hanging over them for stories they can prove are absolutely true?” he said.
“Papers would be full of stories about jelly. And if they wanted to be really, really brave, there may be some stories about cake.
“I think it’s outrageous.
“But to penalise newspapers for telling the truth? To prevent newspapers like the Advertizer from reporting what is happening locally? To effectively prevent any kind of investigative reporting by any newspaper? It’s appalling.
“I am meeting senior MPs this week and I shall be lobbying them on the issue, and finding out what they believe and urging them to ensure this Section 40 is never implemented.
“Thomas Jefferson once said: ‘Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter’. How true that is.
“How can we, as a government, push through legislation like this that would have such a severe impact on local newspapers that many of them would not survive?
“They would be full of stories so bland no-one would want to read them, they would sell no copies and they would go out of business.
“As a governing party, how could we tell Putin how to behave, or Turkey how to behave, when we would be silencing free speech ourselves?”