A message to readers from the editor, Perry Austin-Clarke...
Imagine, for a moment, life without your Telegraph & Argus. Even if you are not a daily purchaser of the printed newspaper, you – or someone you know or are close to – will almost certainly be a regular reader of the news we produce and the information we provide on our website or via our Facebook pages.
But what if they ceased to exist?
If it wasn’t for our newspapers and the journalists who fill them, waste and inefficiency in public bodies, corruption and other crime might not be exposed.
Whistleblowers would have nowhere to go to reveal incompetence and wrong-doing in the local community and in local organisations.
There would be no-one to campaign on your behalf, to fight battles that you care about, to rally the community to raise vitally-needed funds for local charities and appeals.
That terrifying prospect is now a great deal closer than you might think.
Sadly, there are those who would be only too happy to see misbehaviour and the misuse of public funds go unreported by restricting the press and preventing us from exposing facts and information that some would prefer to keep secret.
There are already tough libel laws and strict regulations that the press must comply with to expose inequity and wrong-doing but now a new law threatens the very existence of local newspapers like the T&A.
An obscure piece of legislation could soon be used to impose crippling legal costs on newspapers and magazines in the wake of libel or privacy trials - even when what they print is the truth.
Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act could force newspapers like the T&A to pay the costs incurred by both sides in a libel case even if the newspaper wins and is able to demonstrate in court that what it reported was accurate and publication was in the public interest.
In other words, the freedom of the press and the public’s right to know - two of the cornerstones of modern democracy - are both under threat.
The phone-hacking scandal prompted a wave of public anger against journalists - even though only a small number of national journalists were implicated.
Those journalists were dealt with in the criminal and civil courts. But now, riding that wave of public anger, the Government is trying to force all newspapers to join Impress, a press regulator of its choice - one which was dreamt up by politicians, is backed by a Royal Charter and financed mainly by Max Moseley.
This flies in the face of the fundamental rights of the freedom of the press, freedom of expression, the public’s right to receive information, and the first principle of justice – that it should be fair.
The vast majority of newspapers - including the T&A - are already signed up to an independent regulator: IPSO, the Independent Press Standards Organisation. The clue is in the name.
Forcing newspapers to sign up to a regulator approved by politicians would fundamentally alter the balance of power between a free press and those the press exists to scrutinise. Most newspapers refuse to do so, believing it would be a step towards state regulation and censorship. But if we don’t, the government is threatening to introduce a ‘costs order’ in Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act.
That would mean that newspapers like the T&A which continued to refuse to sign up to the Government-approved regulator could then be forced to pay all the legal costs for both sides in any libel or privacy action, even when they won the court case.
This would have a chilling effect on newspapers’ ability to hold the powerful to account.
We wouldn’t dare to expose corruption or wrongdoing in public office, even when we could prove them, for fear of massive legal bills.
If you believe in these values, in your right to know, then I really must urge you to help by actively showing your support.
Please respond to the Government’s consultation on implementing Section 40 by writing to your MP, calling on the Government to step back from a draconian measure that would take us back to the dark ages of press censorship and stifle freedom of expression.
OR you can simply respond by visiting the website set up at freethepress.co.uk with a simple submission form you can quickly complete and press Send.
If you believe in freedom of speech, a free press and freedom from state interference in what you can read, PLEASE ACT NOW.
This is no idle threat – YOUR local newspaper really does need YOU.
Please visit freethepress.co.uk today.
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