Douglas Carswell

09 JAN 2017

Britain needs a bill of rights to protect press freedom

Mark Reckless and I refused to support plans to penalise the press when they were put before Parliament in what became the Crime and Courts Act 2013. We feared the new rules would restrict press freedom. It's now clear we were right.

Section 40 of that act, on which the government is currently consulting (until tomorrow), would force media outlets that aren't signed up to the state-approved press regulator to pay the full costs of any libel action against them, even if they are vindicated in court.

This is censorship through the back door. It means papers would avoid running exposés – about top politicians, for example – for fear of being sued, even if they are printing the truth.

Good news for vested interests in the Westminster cartel. Bad news for the public interest.

Free societies don't do censorship. Elites should not be able to use the law to protect themselves from criticism. Super-injunctions and state regulation of the press allow the rich and powerful to do just that.

In the United States, Section 40 would likely be unconstitutional. The First Amendment enshrines the freedom of the press as a basic right.

Evidently we can't trust our government to safeguard press freedom as a matter of course. We need our own bill of rights to make sure ministers can't violate it.

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