Join the Shropshire Star's fight to keep free press

Owen Paterson quotes the founding father of America Thomas Jefferson when he refers to the role of newspapers and the press.

The Shropshire Star press hall. Inset: Owen Paterson MP.
The Shropshire Star press hall. Inset: Owen Paterson MP.

He 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.”

But former cabinet minister Mr Paterson warns that under the latest measures being considered by Government, Britain’s fierce and independent press could be left unable to write about anything more controversial than the standard of cakes at the village fete.

Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act does not roll off the tongue in the way that Brexit does.

And the finer points of media regulation probably don’t resonate with the man in the street in the same way as issues such as immigration or the NHS.

But if the Government decides to go ahead and put Section 40 into action, it is something that will affect every single reader of this newspaper – because it will place draconian constraints on what information we can and can’t share with you. In short, it means we could be punished for telling the truth.

Stories such as the controversy about the Future Fit hospital proposals, the troubles of Shropshire Council’s IP & E venture, and the fall-out from the Operation Chalice investigation into child sex abuse could all become a thing of the past if the Government chooses to activate Section 40.

So what is Section 40? Well essentially it means that newspapers will be obliged to pay the legal costs of anybody who sues them for libel, regardless of whether the complaint is justified or not. Even if a judge ruled the complaint was spurious or malicious, and that the story in question was entirely accurate, it would make no difference. The newspaper would have to pay for the privilege of being sued.

Surely there must be a get out clause? Well up to a point. The law would give protection to newspapers that sign up to Impress, a state-approved regulator part-funded by controversial tycoon Max Mosley. But no newspaper worth its salt would be prepared to compromise its independence and integrity in that way. To date, not a single major publisher has signed up to Impress.

A handful of papers – most notably The Guardian and the Financial Times – have said they will regulate themselves. But the vast majority, the Shropshire Star included, agreed to be regulated by the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso). The Ipso code of conduct is similar to that of the state-approved regulator, but is independent of any political control.

At the moment, Culture Secretary Karen Bradley is consulting the public on whether to implement Section 40, but the consultation ends on Tuesday next week. North Shropshire MP Mr Paterson, and his colleague for Montgomeryshire Glyn Davies have both pledged to fight the proposals.

“It would effectively be the end of the free press,” said Mr Davies.

“Journalists guilty of writing the truth would be liable for the costs of those who were trying to hide it.

“I’m seriously upset, I think it’s terrible. I’m seriously opposed to it, I’ve told the whips within my party that I’m totally against it.”

Mr Paterson also says he feels very strongly that the Government must not implement Section 40.

“It’s completely wrong that if Section 40 goes through, someone can sue a newspaper and, even if they lose, they will have their expenses paid. If newspapers are not able to raise particularly large amounts of money they will be completely killed off.

“Realistically, papers will be reduced to talking about cake and jelly stalls at the village fete – they will be terrified about offending anybody.”

Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, who contested The Wrekin seat at the 2001 General Election, is also fiercely opposed to the implementation of the law.

“It is hard to believe that a free democratic state passed a law that fines people for telling the truth,” he says.

“It would make the courts impose costs on a newspaper that told the truth if it had not been agreed to be regulated by a government-approved body.

“If they can always be sued at no cost to the complainants then they will not dare to report on the failings of the moderately well-off for the fear of facing costs that would bankrupt them.

“Anyone could go to court and have a free ride against a non-government paper for any story that he or she did not like.”

Labour MP Kate Hoey warns it will be the death knell for the British newspaper industry, and would be a hammer blow for democracy.

“The first move of any dictator is usually to curb the press and allow only what is perceived as suitable reading for their people,” she said.

“The Secretary of State is being bombarded by a campaign led by those who wish to ensure that you, the public, are not told about any of the activities of rich, powerful, or famous people that might damage their carefully crafted public image.”

Tom Slater of the free-speech website Spiked – which will not be affected by the proposals – says it is essential that those concerned about press freedom make their feelings known.

“We can’t let this quiet coup happen,” he said.

“Press freedom is the bedrock of a democratic society, a principle that rabble-rousers and dirt-diggers throughout history have risked life, limb and liberty to fight for and defend.

“It is in this tradition that Spiked, with other publications committed to defending this most fragile and precious freedom, is calling on the British public to respond to the consultation.”

Addressing a committee in the Commons in October, Culture Secretary Mrs Bradley acknowledged there were genuine concerns.

She said: “I could do an ideological position on this, but the implications of being ideological may be that we see a vibrant free local press being affected. It has been put to me very clearly by a number of editors of local newspapers that the exemplary damages section of Section 40 could see them being put out of business and certainly would impact on their ability to do investigative journalism.”

Miss Hoey said she hopes Labour will oppose the measures to ensure the rich and powerful are held to account. She warned: “Very quickly the choice every newspaper will face will be to submit to state regulation under Impress, drop any investigative activity at all, or shut down.

“Shutting down will be the only honourable option. The UK will lose not just a free press, but any print press at all.”

This should be assigned to the Government’s bin of bad ideas, says Glyn Davies MP

MP Glyn Davies knows his actions will be followed closely by his local newspapers. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

"A few weeks ago I informed the whip’s office that I am totally opposed to Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act.

At the time, the Secretary of State was considering whether to give effect to a deeply worrying attempt to fetter our free press. She is still considering it.

There will be many more Conservative MPs of like mind. I certainly hope this iniquitous bit of legislation lies for ever in that huge pile of bad ideas that governments have thought about before discarded after considered thought.

Perhaps I’m an unlikely champion of a free press, bearing in mind the things I’ve been accused of over the last 30 years. But I am. Determinedly so. To begin with, the personal criticism was hurtful. As a young man I was a sensitive flower. But I toughened up. Truth is that only those who think ill of us believe the negative stuff they read about us.

When I discuss my absolute commitment to a free press with constituents, to begin with they think I’m joking.

Section 40 means that anyone can sue a newspaper about something it has published and even if the newspaper was entirely correct, it remains liable for the costs of the complainer.

This is totally outrageous. Journalists guilty of writing the truth would be liable for the costs of those who were trying to hide it.

Astonishingly, though unsurprisingly on second thoughts, this does not apply to the BBC. Nor does it have impact on internet-based news sites. The only way for a newspaper to avoid this outrage is for it to sign up to government-approved press regulatory body called Impress, which is funded by Max Mosley. Section 40 would finish off our free Press.

I’ve had local newspapers contact me about this threat to their existence. The economics of local newspapers has already been seriously undermined by the internet.

Responsible newspapers would be put in an impossible position – risk the very survival of the newspaper and jobs of its staff, or just don’t report the story. Even if entirely true, it could be bankrupted.

As editor, which choice would you take?

I hope the Secretary of State will not give force to Section 40. It would be so incredibly UN-British.

It would signal the end of our free Press."

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Comments for: "Join the Shropshire Star's fight to keep free press"

Roger

They can join in the voluntary code of practice and avoid the onerous costs of being taken to court. It seems so much simpler. Cameron has intervened with the Leverson report to pull the teeth of the tiger but that is obviously not good enough for the Shropshire Star. They want the freedom to tell lies, exaggeration and misleading articles with no come back. If the press had behaved themselves Leverson would never have needed.

He 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.”

says everything we need to know about Owen Patterson. I simply can image what the world would be like if the Shropshire Star ran it. I do not believe that Shropshire could ever get passed their Tory Bias to actually hold local or national government to account. No body could ever describe the Shopshire Star as a crusading newspaper. Blind obedience to the Council might deascibe it better. you wonder why owen Patterson is so keen on being an MP if believes Government has no role so the smaller the government the better.

TW

I'm all for free press but can we have less copy and paste press releases published in the shropshire star. I've read far too many articles with one sided, misleading information and yet the star don't even bother posting corrections.

I'm also in favour of the press issuing corrections which take up the same amount of space as a misleading items.

More regulation for the press, no. Improved responsibility from editors and journalists is needed!

Nick, Telford

Could not agree more! The local press has become a paradise for the public relations industry simply because papers are employing too few seasoned journalists. With such a dearth of quality stories it has become easy for press officers at companies and local authorities to supply a constant stream of turgid copy, all slanted to highlight their so-called achievements. They know it will be published without question and for the most part in its entirety because there is nobody to question the contents.

The national press is even worse. The vast majority of stories these days seemed to be culled from the internet. I've lost count of the number of "how to lose your belly-fat" and "how to charm your millionaire sugar-daddy" stories which appear each week, along with ancient videos from YouTube.

The local press is already in dire trouble. To subject it to the whims of a vengeful millionaire with an agenda to crush free expression would be a mortal blow.

the fat controller

If the press can be trusted to report in a truthful, responsible way, then of course we should have a free press.

But then there's the Daily Mail.........

Our ed

Meanwhile whilst everyone is scrapping for their little pound of flesh....the real issues we face are all too often left on the back burner.

Fair to say, future generations shall be appalled.

Why? Frankly put because too many have completely lost trust in both politics and some parts of the media. And because lying through gritted teeth, the cover ups and injustices continue.

The establishment are quite worried and folk aren't perhaps as stupid as they think.

Uhtred

My concern is that the Shropshire Star are using innacurate arguments to gather public support. The Editor says "It would stifle the press & prevent the kind of investigative journalism & debate that exposes wrongdoing and holds those in power to account".

He also says that "We are also conscious of our role in uncovering wrongdoing, monitoring decision-making...."

I don't have any particular problem with the Shropshire Star, but those comments just do not ring true in my experience. The exposure of problems with IP&E is quoted as an example, but it was an independent Shropshire Councillor that exposed the real problems which ultimately led to the departure of the former leader of the Council.

Can I suggest an opportunity for the Shropshire Star to demonstrate some investigative reporting:

The British Ironworks at Oswestry has been exposed for not having planning permission for the extensive tourist activities that take place there. The Shropshire Star has been very positive of its support for the facility, as coincidentally has Owen Patterson, along with all the businesses and 'those in power' that the owner has managed to ingratiate himself with.

The planning consent of 2009 had a Condition applied, No13, that required "the applicant to undertake access improvements (from the A5) the design of which shall be in accordance with Highways Agency design standards and to be certified as being complete by the local planning authority in consultation with the Highways Agency. Reason: ......to protect the interests of road safety on the trunk road."

So, was this Condition 13 complied with?

Shropshire Council refused to answer an FOI request on the matter and declared the requester vexatious. Subsequently enquiries were made with Highways England (formerly Highways Agency) who said:

"WE HAVE NO RECORD OF BEING CONTACTED REGARDING CONDITION 13"

So if Clive Knowles failed to discharge Condition 13 on the original application which was for minor industrial work, and has continued to expand into a major tourist attraction with a massive increase of traffic without any improvements to the junction with the A5, and has publicly stated that he had not applied for planning permission because he knew it would be refused on highways issues, does this not demonstrate a lack of concern regarding public safety?

Should Owen Patterson really be supporting this massive infringement into the open countryside, and does he not have any concerns about the breach of planning conditions?

Will the Star expose this wrongdoing and petition Shropshire Council to apply a Breach of Condition Notice and apply an Emergency Traffic Regulation Order at the junction with the A5 to protect the safety of road users?

James B

It's deeply ironic that the Shropshire Star quotes Owen Paterson on this issue. This paper acts as if it were Paterson's private press-office.

Noway

Am sure we would support the fight for free speech if we felt there was balanced reporting from the Shropshire Star. It produces biased reports totally in the pockets of Shropshire Council and thd MP's and anyone else friendly with the owners.

Martin Wright - how many reporters have ever, or are even capable of carrying out investigative journalism? It is nil.

You cannot call people journalists that spend their day trawling social media to copy and paste incidents or to regurgitate the same story if you do not like the responses here. Many times the indiscretions of the Shropshire Council managers have been twisted and now it is happening with his friends and their planning applications.

If you want respect for your journalism try offering some unbiased reporting.

MH1

Here's my take. As soon as the British press grows up and takes its responsibilities seriously instead of spouting hate filled rhetoric, celebrity sleaze stories or copy and paste press releases - then they can be left to run their own affairs. How many lives have newspapers ruined in the name of "public interest" or "free press".

How many times has the Shropshire Star ignored local issues or cosied up to local councils and failed to hold them to account?

The NHS Future Fit debacle is a perfect example; the Shropshire Star has led front page after front page doom and gloom about the location of our hospitals - stirring up the age old Shrewsbury/Telford divisions and has NOTHING to lead the campaign to unite the whole of Shropshire in our desire to keep our services so no one feels left out.

Perhaps, start being part of the community, using the Star's voice for good instead of fear, division, an tabloid repetition and then you'll have our support.

Our ed

Reported elsewhere today a well known publication loses 60 million profits?

Forget elections - people are voting with their wallets, companies are perhaps feeling the pinch (less inclined to advertise.) to name a few.

Truth comes out in the end. More likely today through a personal blog or independent journalist prepared to find it - and because it is in the public interest, not tittle-tattle gossip that are geared up to spread rumours.

Our ed

Just in case you are not aware of it, the purpose of any commercial 'for-profit' company or corporation is to make money for it's owners (and shareholders if there are any). The people whom you think of as 'The Government' don't do anything which earns money - instead, they take money from you and their main job is to make sure that you don't realise that they are in the same position as IBM which takes away a cool £256 million of your money every year.

So, why all the pretense of there being a genuine government which you elect and who serve you? They don't want you to UNDERSTAND that they are just running a company which produces nothing of any worth - something like a betting shop, where almost every customer loses money - and wake up to the fact that, unlike what you have been told all your life, this is all optional and you don't need to play their rip-off game any longer unless you want to. They want you to be so burdened down with paying them money and working so hard and so long that you don't have the time, money or energy to stop and think about what is happening to you and your family! These people ARE NOT DAFT.

They are desperate to stop you from just walking away from their scam, and so they make every effort to connect you with the fiction which is your 'Legal Fiction' / 'Strawman' because fictitious entities like commercial companies can't have any dealing with a real man or a real woman - they can only deal with another fiction like your strawman, and it is essential that they fool you into believing that you have to act on behalf of your strawman - which you don't.

They have a number of well-proven methods of distracting you and keeping you from finding out. They want you to see a great deal of entertainment, not because there is anything wrong with entertainment, but while you are watching it you will not be asking awkward questions. Also, they are very careful that most entertainment reinforces their make-believe world and makes it appear to be "the real world" where everyone is under 'The Government', Police Officers uphold the law, taxes are essential in order to keep things going and things which are said to be bad for you, are taxed heavily (not to make money) but supposedly, to encourage you to avoid those things. Which is utter drivel, at best.

They also have another very effective technique, and that is FEAR, so DO NOT fear them. They want you to be 'Afraid' so DO NOT be afraid of them...Afraid of imaginary terrorists. Afraid of disasters. Afraid of new diseases. Afraid of foreign countries. Afraid of "the economy" doing badly and inflation rising. If you doubt this, then take a look at the news and count the number of positive, uplifting news items, and the number of negative or depressing news items! It doesn't take much in the way of research to see the very heavy negative bias in the news. The reason behind this is to make you feel that you need a government and an army to protect you from these supposed dangers! It is easy to keep the news items biased that way, because all of the major news agencies and media outlets in the world are owned by only five or six privately owned commercial companies......

So, is it a CON? You decide.