“Press regulation proposals owe more to Monty Python’s Piranha Brothers and their Other Other Operation” – News From Crystal Palace writes to culture minister Karen Bradley over section 40 proposals
To: The Right Hon. Karen Bradley MP
PUBLIC CONSULTATION: Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013
I’m a freelance journalist writing and editing the News From Crystal Palace website www.newsfromcrystalpalace.co.uk covering the Upper Norwood / Crystal Palace area of south London.
As a local newspaper journalist and, latterly, website editor and reporter I have, down the years, covered eight different London boroughs. (Three of those – Bromley, Croydon and Lambeth – make up the five boroughs which are in, or border on, this area.)
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 be innocent 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.
News From Crystal Palace won’t be registering with PRP or Impress. It’s my right under the Human Rights Act (another avenue for lawyers – and for me):
The Human Rights Act 1998 has three main effects, the second of which is:
It requires “all public bodies (like courts, police, local authorities, hospitals and publicly funded schools) and other bodies carrying out public functions to respect and protect your human rights.”
Because I do not want to be press-ganged (or Impress-ganged) into joining an organisation I do not wish to join (is that legal anyway?) then the public bodies involved in this nonsense(Parliament, certain MPs) are NOT protecting MY human rights.
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to publicly voice my opinions.
News From Crystal Palace
I am cc’ing this email to the three MPs whose constituencies include the area News From Crystal Palace covers. (Jim Dowd, Helen Hayes and Steve Reed).
*Section 40: “If the defendant was not a member of an approved regulator at the material time (but was able to be a member) then the court must award costs against the defendant unless certain circumstances pertain (set out in section 40).”
These “certain circumstances” appear to be in part 3 of section 40 which says: “(3) If the defendant was not a member of an approved regulator at the time when the claim was commenced (but would have been able to be a member at that time and it would have been reasonable in the circumstances for the defendant to have been a member at that time), the court must award costs against the defendant unless satisfied that—
(a) the issues raised by the claim could not have been resolved by using an arbitration scheme of the approved regulator (had the defendant been a member), or
(b) it is just and equitable in all the circumstances of the case to make a different award of costs or make no award of costs.”
FURTHER READING: Karen Bradley statement to House of Commons on a consultation seeking views on two issues relating to the Leveson Inquiry. November 1st
Commons debate November 1st (Hansard)