AN OPEN LETTER TO THE MPs OF ALL FIVE BOROUGHS COVERING THE CRYSTAL PALACE AREA

“SIGN UP TO IMPRESS OR WE’LL FINANCIALLY RUIN YOU”. THIS IS CALLED BLACKMAIL……..
 
Dear MPs
 
Tomorrow you are being asked to vote on a proposed amendment to the Data Protection Bill that, to quote the Daily Mail, “will force publishers refusing to join a state-recognised Press regulator to pay the costs of claimants who bring proceedings even if their claims are defeated.”

Newspapers belonging to Impress would be “exempt from the punitive regime” said the Daily Mail yesterday (Monday, page 12).  And so would the Guardian and the Observer because Labour deputy leader Tom Watson’s new law would not apply to a publisher that ploughs all profits back into the business. (According to one eminent QC this would be illegal).

So: Sign up to Impress or we’ll financially ruin you.

This is blackmail. Nothing more, nothing less and what any MP voting in favour of the relevant section of the Bill will be supporting.

News From Crystal Palace has criticised Labour efforts about an attempt to muzzle the Press before. Back in November 2016 Labour tried to pull a similar stunt with Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013.

This is what I wrote then in a letter to the then Culture Secretary MP Karen Bradley:

I regard the proposed section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 as a thoroughly dangerous piece of legislation.
 
If you are going to penalise newspapers and, like myself, individual journalists, for telling the truth then where will you draw the line?
 
Some ambulance-chasing lawyers must be licking their lips in anticipation at all the money to be made out of this – and I don’t mean from newspapers.
 
Using the same ‘logic’ contained in Section 40:
 
If a journalist is fined for speeding do the Crown Prosecution Service pay that journalist’s costs?
 
If a newspaper publishing company is fined for breaching health and safety rules do the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) pay that newspaper publisher’s costs?
 
If a convicted killer loses his appeal does the Government pay that killer’s legal costs?
 
You can guarantee that some lawyer, somewhere, is going to try these arguments on.
 
Would a person proved innocent in a murder trial or a person who has been summoned to court on far less serious matters and found to beinnocent no longer have their costs paid by the prosecuting side?
(It’s a great way of saving taxpayers money.) I don’t think so.
 
Those who had their phones hacked (which is not, and never has been, proper journalism) are understandably angry at the disgusting intrusions into their lives.
 
But they and the likes of Hacked Off (which I am thoroughly Hacked Off with anyway) need to step back and reconsider the appalling implications of the revenge they are trying to wreak.
 
There will be con artists, loan sharks, bootleg manufacturers, forgers, cowboy builders, drug dealers, spivs, bent property developers, paedophiles etc etc etc who, having had their CRIMINAL activities exposed by a newspaper, website or other media outlet (and maybe reported by BBC News online and on other websites) will want their revenge.
 
They will be able to take any media publication / website to the Press Recognition Panel (PRP) knowing that, if that media publication or website are not registered with PRP and its “approved regulator” Impress (Independent Monitor for the Press) whose website describes itself as a  “Community Interest Company” that they can probably financially ruin them.
 
It might also be worth reading some of the Impress small print. Tucked away on their website is this:
 
“10. The fees of the arbitrator, which shall be paid by the publisher, shall be set at no more than £3,500 unless the publisher agrees to the payment of a higher fee.”
 
So a publisher has to pay the arbitrator’s fee whatever the outcome.
 
Aren’t there laws stopping unwanted goods and services? I haven’t signed up to Impress. I won’t be paying an arbitrator.
 
As Robert Jenrick (Newark) (Con) said in a Parliamentary debate on November 1st:
 
“My local, family-owned newspaper, the Newark Advertiser, knows what it is like to be vexatiously sued by a politician. “When Harold Laski sued the newspaper to try to ruin a local family, the Parlbys, he
lost. “That is now one of the leading cases in this area of law.
 
“Of course, had these rules been in place, the family would still have been ruined and my local newspaper would still have been put out of business.”
 
The News From Crystal Palace website – on a very regular basis – writes news items which are hugely critical of, and opinion pieces which are extremely sarcastic about, Lambeth council.
 
If Lambeth council want to silence us then all they have to do is report us to Impress.
 
Any defence of truth and / or fair comment fails immediately.
 
That will cost us £3,500 every time Lambeth want to complain about something they don’t like.
 
Why any of the comparative handful of websites and / or publications which have signed up to PRP / Impress have done so beggars belief.
 
I’m reminded of the Monty Python’s Flying Circus sketch featuring the Piranha brothers (Doug and Dinsdale) and their “other, other operation.”
 
(It’s in Episode 14, the first item of which is, ironically, called “Face the Press”. In the “Ethel the Frog” sketch – based on the old ‘This Week’ TV programme format – you will find the following:
 
“When the Piranhas left school they were called up but were found by an Army Board to be too unstable even for National Service. Denied the opportunity to use their talents in the service of their country, they
began to operate what they called ‘The Operation’. They would select a victim and then threaten to beat him up if he paid the so-called protection money. Four months later they started another operation
which they called ‘The Other Operation’. In this racket they selected another victim and threatened not to beat him up if he didn’t pay them. One month later they hit upon ‘The Other Other Operation’. In
this the victim was threatened that if he didn’t pay them, they would beat him up. This for the Piranha brothers was the turning point.”
 
Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 seems broadly similar:
 
The Operation: You ask a media outlet to join your organisation and say you won’t financially penalise them if they do.
 
The Other Other Operation: You say to a media outlet: If you don’t join our organisation, we’ll financially ruin you.

Although this got kicked out by culture secretary Matt Hancock, the dangers remain the same. It’s just been revived in a different form. Since that was written News From Crystal Palace has published a myriad of stories criticising and castigating Lambeth council,  its leader Lib Peck and Lambeth Labour party.

Back in the early 1980’s I covered Bromley council for a local newspaper (now sadly gone). Item one on part one of the council’s policy and resources committee (aka the cabinet) was to kick out the press and public. This happened about five meetings running.

Having covered other London boroughs prior to this I knew I could go to a P and R committee meeting and come away with three decent stories off the part one agenda every time. In Bromley it happened on five occasions so I wrote a full broadsheet page article having a go at Bromley council.

A sub-editor wrote the picture caption and announced that Bromley still had ten aldermen. (They didn’t). Two or three Tory councilors came up to me and – very nicely and with some humour – pointed out they didn’t have any aldermen. (I know, I know I said, blaming the sub-editor.)

But that was their ONLY criticism. They obviously met privately in the Conservative group and discussed it.

And items started appearing on part one of the policy and resources committee’s agenda from which I could write stories. (In contract the housing and social services committees always had large part one agendas, the finance and scrutiny committee had a failry large part one agenda and it was the education committee that had the thinner agendas.)

Fast forward to 2018. These days it seems that there’s an increasing divergence of opinion on press freedom between the two main parties.

Nationally the Tories seem to accept there will be criticism but don’t mind if it’s fair, balanced and accurate and they have the opportunity to respond.

With Labour it appears to be: You’re not allowed to criticise us. And we’re not going to respond to you anyway. (Locally, this especially appears to be the case in Lambeth.)

A recent report by the World Press Freedom Index puts Norway and Sweden first and second,  Costa Rica 10th, the UK 40th one place above Burkina Faso and the USA 45th. Cuba are 172nd, China 176th with North Korea bottom in 180th place.

Their website states: Published every year since 2002 by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the World Press Freedom Index ranks 180 countries according to the level of freedom available to journalists. It is a snapshot of the media freedom situation based on an evaluation of pluralism, independence of the media, quality of legislative framework and safety of journalists in each country. It does not rank public policies even if governments obviously have a major impact on their country’s ranking. Nor is it an indicator of the quality of journalism in each country.

There’s a press freedom map which offers a visual overview of the sitution in each country in the Index. The colour categories are assigned as follows: good (white), fairly good (yellow) which includes the UK; problematic (orange), bad (red) and very bad (black).

As the Index’s website says: Don’t wait to be deprived of news before defending it!
 
If you do vote in favour or against Tom Watson’s draconian amendments please feel free to let us know why. News From Crystal Palace and many of our readers would be very interested to hear your views.

Many Thanks.

News From Crystal Palace

Further reading: Labour assault on Press freedom is illegal says QC (Daily Mail Monday May 7th 2018 page 12)
Attack on papers spares Guardian (ibid)
‘Unacceptable’ assault on local papers (Daily Mail Tuesday May 8th 2018)
Max Mosley’s chum Tom Watson and a chilling new threat to Britain’s free Press. Commentary by Stephen Glover (ibid).

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