Letter: Press freedom and the evasion of responsibility

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The Independent Online
Sir: In a week that has seen first the leaking and then the precipitate publication of the Calcutt report (reports, 15 January) the press has subjected any attempt to discuss reform to sustained demolition. That's why there's a great danger that Clive Soley's Press Freedom and Responsibility Bill may disappear in the rubble.

The Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom is opposed to the Calcutt proposals. They are, in our opinion, a threat to press freedom. The measures - the creation of new torts, pre-publication injunctions and post-publication fines - would only benefit people wealthy enough to access these processes.

Also they would be used as a

device to gag investigations. The issue is to give rights to citizens, and not, as the Calcutt proposals do, take them away from serious journalism.

The Calcutt proposal for a three-person tribunal with powers to enforce a statutory code and impose fines is also a negative one. The composition of the tribunal would be narrow and unrepresentative, and imposing fines on newspapers would act as a form of censorship, discouraging investigative journalism and having a disproportionate effect on small publications whose existence is vital to a diverse and free media.

Clive Soley's Bill, in marked contrast, is a positive measure, designed to give rights to the citizen and promote press freedom. It would establish a legal right to the correction of inaccuracies, something that could be achieved by conciliation in most cases but, in the event of disagreement, through a procedure administered by an independent press authority. It is a measure that has nothing to do with censorship; rather, it is about giving citizens rights they can access, encouraging the work of journalists who want high standards and establishing an independent body whose job it is to promote press freedom.

These modest proposals have elicited the wrath of newspaper editors, both national and regional. We believe MPs should attend the second reading on 29 January, listen to the arguments and then make their minds up on the merits of the Bill.

Yours sincerely,

GRANVILLE WILLIAMS

National Council

Campaign for Press and

Broadcasting Freedom (North)

Upton, West Yorkshire

15 January

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