Today’s Times has a front page news item which may surprise press regulation campaigners, whether they favour the kinds of reforms outlined in the report following the Leveson Inquiry, or not. “Government backs down over threat to press freedom” tells the headline, followed by “The Government has backed down over plans to make newspapers pay libel costs even if they win their case”. It has?
Well, maybe not: “Westminster sources revealed last night that the ‘punitive demands’ of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act, which would force a newspaper to pay libel damages irrespective of whether or not it won, ‘will not go ahead’”. There was more. “Ministers had hoped [no name pitched, and none will be] to cajole newspapers into registering with the new body [Impress] by threatening to implement Section 40 for those who refused. Instead Karen Bradley, the Culture Secretary, opened the way yesterday for a more lenient approach”. She did? When did that happen?
“Giving evidence to the Commons culture, media and sport committee, Ms Bradley, who has held meetings with local and national newspaper editors, indicated that she did not want to go ahead with something that might put regional papers out of business”. That is the sum total of this exclusive insight. Which is also in the Sun.
Karen Bradley - a weak minister
“Government signals major U-turn in its war on Press freedom … Pressure for the Press to sign up to a regulatory body approved by Royal Charter causes outrage” readers are told, with the assurance “Culture Secretary Karen Bradley is to fight plans for crippling financial punishments on newspapers”. And there were the obligatory talking heads.
Insufferably pompous and verbose Tory MP Jacob Rees Mogg scoffed “A free Press is a beacon of our ancient liberty and it would be dreadful if it were watered down in honour of some sleazy celebrities”. No watering down is on offer, sadly. But there was also Bob Satchwell of the Society of Editors, who “said the Royal Charter system was ‘halfway to state control of the Press’ and called Section 40 a draconian measure”.
Craig Woodhouse - allowed a little too close to Government
Quite apart from there being no state control of anything being proposed or discussed, it’s clear that the Murdoch press has been fed a line from someone with access to Karen Bradley. Who, one has to ask, might that be? But there is no need to ask: Craig Woodhouse, formerly of the Sun, is now a special advisor to Ms Bradley, and as Zelo Street has pointed out previously, he is manipulating the minister for Murdoch’s benefit.
What makes Woodhouse’s behaviour doubly out of order is that he is not supposed to have any role in determining policy - Ms Bradley has yet to appoint someone to that position. Yet, to borrow from Aneurin Bevan, he is clearly playing both monkey and organ grinder in trying to “do a Fox News” and call this particular result before the outcome is known. That is how scared the Murdochs are of Section 40 - and Impress.
Properly independent press regulation? It’s such a frightening prospect that Times and Sun readers have to be fed an alternative reality instead. So no change there, then.