The Society of Editors has launched a fresh campaign against planned changes to the libel laws.
The government is currently holding a consultation on whether to enact the controversial Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act, which could see publishers forced to pay both sides’ costs in a libel action even if they win.
Under the slogan ‘Save Your Right to Know,’ the SoE is urging the public to respond to the consultation, which runs until 10 January 2017.
Under Section 40, any publisher who is not signed up to a state-approved regulator could be forced to pay the costs of the unsuccessful claimant in a libel or privacy action as well as their own.
SoE executive director Bob Satchwell, pictured, said: “This is an issue that will affect everyone. The decision about the introduction of crippling costs orders would inhibit the ability of people’s favourite papers and magazines to inform their readers of issues that seriously affect their lives. Despite what you may have heard, the threat remains very real.
“Everyone, not just journalists and publishers, must respond to the consultation and write to their MPs to persuade politicians and the Government to step back from a draconian measure that would take us back to the dark ages of press censorship, stifle freedom of expression and the public’s right to know what is done in their name and with their money.
“It is a battle which goes back to the 1600s, a century in which a king lost his head for ignoring the interests of the people. Those who seek to neuter the press and whistleblowers, must not be allowed to win this fight for fundamental freedoms that are important for everyone but which are too easily taken for granted.”
Last month Keith Harrison, editor of the Express & Star, and Martin Wright, editor of sister title the Shropshire Star, both sounded warnings over the issue in first-person pieces for their respective newspapers.