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How you can help to defend this country’s free press

PUBLISHED: 12:03 14 December 2016 | UPDATED: 14:28 14 December 2016

The EDP has a long and proud history serving the community with its journalism. A proposed law change could put that at risk (Picture: EDP graphics)

The EDP has a long and proud history serving the community with its journalism. A proposed law change could put that at risk (Picture: EDP graphics)

Archant

Today we need your help in stopping a change in the law that would prevent the Eastern Daily Press from holding to account individuals and the powers that be.

For generations, the EDP and other newspapers have fulfilled a crucial role by challenging injustice, safe in the knowledge that, if we are right, no amount of money, influence or power can stop us telling the truth.

But that freedom to report the truth is being put at risk with an ill-considered and iniquitous proposal that opens the door to anyone trying to sue their local paper with no financial risk to themselves. Even if the EDP were completely right, and we won in court, we would have to pay both sides’ legal costs.

We find ourselves in this position because, in common with virtually every newspaper in the country, the EDP refuses to sign up to an organi-sation called Impress – an officially approved press regulator that allows the state to interfere in how newspapers work.

We already have an effective regulator that was introduced in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry. Called the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), it imposes stringent and binding contractual obligations on the EDP in how we deal with complaints and carry out our journalism. It even has the power to issue huge fines for breaches of the rules. Crucially, it is free from state control.

As a responsible local newspaper the EDP was pleased to sign up to the high standards demanded by IPSO. We are proud of the ethical way in which we carry out our journalism and the professional and accurate way in which our reporters do their jobs.

But we are not perfect and, on those occasions when we make mistakes, we make proper amends and apologise in full.

But because we won’t sign up to Impress, the government can bring into force a provision, called section 40, buried deep within the 2013 Crime and Courts Act.

It’s that section 40 which says that even though we have won our case and the court has upheld our journalism, we will have to pay both sides’ legal bills in libel trials and certain other court actions such as privacy, harassment or breach of confidence.

The consequences of that are eye wateringly expensive and unjust.

If newspapers aren’t bankrupted they will, at the very least, have a paralysing fear of publishing anything which gives unscrupulous people the chance of being able to line their pockets at the paper’s expense.

We fervently believe section 40 should be repealed. And now the government has decided to open the issue to the public to gauge your thoughts.

There is a public consultation on the issue which runs until January 10 and we would implore you to contrib-ute to it. We sincerely hope you can see how disastrous this law change would be and the impact it would have on the EDP and our free press.

■If you care about the future of an independent local media we urge you to have your say online here, or you can email your thoughts to presspolicy@culture.gov.uk. You can also write to the consultation at Press Policy, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 4th floor, 100 Parliament St, London, SW1A 2BQ.

You can also show your support for the EDP in trying to stop the introduction of this unjust legislation by writing to your local MP and explaining why your local newspaper matters to you. It will only take a few minutes and your views could play a crucial part in defending newspapers from those who would bring down the curtain on centuries of a free press.

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