Sir, In concert with the rest of the national and local press, the Financial Times has argued against the Section 40 provision of the Leveson framework (“No 10 warned of ‘trench warfare’ over press regulation”, January 9) that would make publishers liable for court costs even when they win, suggesting that it would “threaten the FT’s journalistic freedom and activity”.
Unfortunately, newspaper readers were not given the full picture during the government’s consultation which finished this week: that this provision excludes trivial and vexatious claims; only applies if deemed fair by the court; and extends to small publishers seeking protection from libel bullies threatening to bankrupt them with court costs even if they publish the truth. In other words, it positively encourages difficult investigative journalism.
Nor, in all the column centimetres devoted to concerns about “state-backed regulation of the press”, were readers offered any description of the safeguards in the Royal Charter to stop any political interference in the Press Recognition Panel. Its independence is protected far more effectively than the Judicial Appointments Commission or Ofcom but we do not see editorials condemning “state-sponsored judges” or “state-backed broadcasting”.
Of course, the newspaper industry is entitled to protect its own interests vigorously, as it did when it successfully lobbied to dilute key recommendations of the Calcutt Inquiry 20 years ago.
But balance and a greater willingness to include all the facts would at least allow readers to come to their own informed opinion on whether the Leveson system of independently audited self-regulation is an appropriate response to dealing with press malpractice.
Prof Steven Barnett
Professor of Communications
School of Media, Art and Design
University of Westminster