Bauwens backs remedy given by MP's Bill

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The Independent Online
MONA BAUWENS, friend of the former Secretary of State for National Heritage, David Mellor, said yesterday that intrusive press coverage of her libel action against The People had turned her into 'a commodity'.

Appearing at a Westminster press conference to back Clive Soley's Private Member's Bill, which would force publication of corrections, Ms Bauwens (now Mrs Shourabji) said that the measure would have provided 'an effective and speedy remedy' to her complaints. It would have avoided a costly libel action, while 'limiting the damage done to me, my family and those who live around me'.

Her support came as Mr Soley said that he planned to amend his Bill to provide legal support for press freedom for the first time in British law. A new clause would 'promote the fundamental freedom of the press to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas'. That, he argued, would offset any privacy legislation which the Government produced by allowing a defence against invasion of privacy in printing stories.

'Privacy laws without counter- balancing press freedom legislation could be very dangerous, and only serve to protect the rich and powerful,' Mr Soley said.

He is also considering amendments to give the statutory body he proposes - which would deal only with corrections, not privacy - a more arm's-length relationship with government. Options include establishing a separate committee to appoint the statutory body, rather than a minister appointing to it direct, or giving a select committee powers of veto over appointments. Mr Soley said that he had approached the Government for talks over his Bill, and believed there was 'room for manoeuvre'. The Government faced a vacuum in its policy having declared the Press Complaints Commission a failure, but having nothing to replace it except privacy laws which would not solve the problems with the press over recent years.

Ms Bauwens told the press conference that every event in her past life had been put under the microscope as a result of her friendship with the Mellors and subsequent libel action. 'I have not done anything wrong. I have been caught up in something that is bigger than me and I am left on my own to cope, and I can't do it.' Mr Soley's Bill requiring inaccuracies to be corrected would have removed the need for libel.