We must all stand up for a free press

The public consultation on the introduction of section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act closes on 10th January. Writers far greater than me have been putting the case forward for a truly free press and the dangers of fettering it in platforms as wide-ranging as the Mirror and the Mail so I won't attempt to match their eloquence here. I will however tell you that half of what we have achieved at the TaxPayers' Alliance in terms of holding to account those who are entrusted with spending our money would not have been possible without a robust, free press which is not afraid to challenge the most powerful men and women in the country. 

I whole-heartedly shared the outrage most decent people felt at the atrocities uncovered in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal, which led to the inception of the Leveson Inquiry. But as has been argued a thousand times, those acts committed by some members of the media were already illegal and the individuals responsible for them could be prosecuted under existing law, which indeed they were. The actions of a few - however deplorable - cannot justify heavy-handed legislation resulting in the restriction of one of the greatest pillars of a functioning democracy, a free press. 

So while I remain outraged by the phone-hacking scandal, I am also outraged by the MPs' expenses scandal, the Rotherham scandal and countless other stories which the media has broken over the years, both nationally and locally, providing the much needed scrutiny to hold authorities to account. The proposed restrictions won't only affect the big players in the industry, they will have a devastating impact on investigative journalism at a local level. Local newspapers would face being crippled by legal costs as section 40 could force them 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".

Whatever your ideology - whether your day starts with the Guardian or the Telegraph - I hope you will agree with me that a free and fearless, sometimes audacious press has an incredibly important role to play which it can only do if it is truly free. However much we resent the transgressions of some members of the media, a restricted press threatened to 'stay in line' will mean losing the most powerful tool of accountability available to us.

If you do agree with me then please let your voice be heard. Here's what you can do to help:

1. Click here

2. Scroll down to Respond Online. This will direct you to the online survey form available here

3. Page 1 - Introduction. [click ‘Next’ at bottom of page]

4. Page 2 - Consultation [tick box 'Individual', then ‘Next’ at bottom of the page]

5. Page 3 [Unless you are a lawyer, tick box ‘Neither of the above’]

6. Page 4 - Which of the following statements do you agree with? [tick box C - the third box]
(c) Government should ask Parliament to repeal all of Section 40 now; [tick this box]

[Feel free to fill in with any evidence you may have and tick box ‘Next’ – otherwise tick box ‘No’]

6. Page 5 - To what extent will full commencement incentivise publishers to join a recognised self-regulator? Please supply evidence.
[Feel free to fill in with any evidence you may have – otherwise answer ‘It will not’ and tick box ‘Next’]

7. Page 6 - Do you believe that the terms of reference of Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry have already been covered by Part 1 and the criminal investigations? [Answer: ‘Yes’ and tick box ‘Next’]

8. Page 8 - Which of the two options set out below best represents your views? [Tick box 2: ‘Terminate the inquiry’]

If you think the government should take another course of action to those set out in the question above, please set out your views. [Feel free to set out your views]
Please indicate below whether or not you have previously submitted an online survey response to this consultation [Tick box 1: ‘No, I HAVE NOT previously submitted an online survey response to this consultation’, then tick box ‘Next’]

9. Page 9 [Tick box ‘Done’]