House of Lords amendments to the Data Protection Bill are ‘a dangerous perversion of British justice’ the Society of Editors has warned.
In a written response to the Data Protection (Lords) Bill ahead of a House of Commons committee hearing today, the Society urged MPs to reject the amendments which could see publishers forced to pay both sides costs in data protection cases regardless of whether they win a case in court.
The Society said: “The Society is of the opinion that clauses 168 and 169 are a crude and misguided attempt to force publishers and individual titles to join a regulator under the state-sponsored Royal Charter system, something that the vast majority of publishers vehemently oppose on grounds of principle.
“The clauses are designed purely to penalise publishers who have quite legally chosen not to join a state-sponsored regulator and are an affront to British justice and fair play as well as the obvious threat to essential journalistic practices which underpin our democracy.
“Such actions would be seen by those in other countries as a green light to continue emasculating their own media. The UK would lose its preeminent position as a beacon of light for peoples around the world living under regimes who deny press freedoms through many means including spurious legal devices.”
The Society went on to warn that the amendments and corresponding financial penalties threatened the future of local newspapers and investigative journalism.
It said: “The clauses would ensure that anyone wishing to delay, halt or punish a newspaper for a genuine enquiry will be able to entangle a publication in lengthy and expensive legal action in the knowledge there will be no cost to those bringing the action. Indeed, even if the action fails, under the proposed clauses the publication would be liable for all costs involved. Clause 168 would make investigations such as the Paradise Papers or recent Oxfam scandal all but impossible to publish. This is a dangerous perversion of British justice, the Society contends, and will be seen as such by the rest of the world.
“The Society urges the government to uphold the standards of press freedom in the UK by striking out those clauses in the Data Protection Bill that will emasculate a free press, restrict investigative journalism and threaten the continued existence of many titles.”
The government has vowed to vote down the amendments with politicians speaking out in support of press freedom earlier this week.
Read the full response here.