It might seem a bit extreme to say that a new piece of legislation could well spell the end of blogging as we know it in the UK but that is exactly what could happen if an amendment to the 2013 Crimes and Court Act (section 40) becomes law. Unfortunately most people will be completely oblivious to this amendment or its serious implications for anybody who writes anything that's seen in public. The authors of the blog Left Foot Forward recently made a compelling case as to why we should all be worried if section 40 becomes law :
"In 2013, Section 40 was snuck into the Crime and Courts Act after
just 13 hours of parliamentary debate on a controversial piece of
legislation that would fundamentally change the relationship between the
press and politicians.For three hundred years, the press has been free from state
interference – put simply, if you wanted to print news or opinion on
paper you didn’t need to ask the government’s permission to do. All you
needed to do was abide by the law of libel (and other laws) and Grub
Street could get on with its work unimpeded.
Section 40 fundamentally shifts this relationship. It means for the
first time in 300 years, newspapers, blogs and campaigning groups (that
is anyone who published ‘news-related materials’) would need to sign up
to a state-approved regulator. If you decide not to, the legislation
means you would be financially punished.The stick to force those affected to sign up was a big stick indeed:
those who don’t join the state-backed regulator will be forced to pay
all the costs in a libel case, even if what they published is entirely
true and in the public interest.You could expose the Panama Papers and have to pay the entire costs of any tax-dodger who decided to sue you.
Section 40 is flawed legislation that poses many legal, political and human rights problems including:
1. Section 40 chills free speech by making people who publish news,
fear the financial clout of the rich and powerful who may wish to
suppress information that is in the public interest;
2. Local and regional newspapers who have faced declining budgets in
recent years, but who provide a vital check on the power of local
authorities and national government will be financially ruined by the
impact of this law;
3. It is unclear which organisations are caught by the law as the
definition of ‘relevant publishers’ under Section 40 is vague. This
means that campaigning organisations could be put off publishing
important news on human rights, financial corruption and environmental
destruction simply because it is unclear whether they are covered by the
4. Even if campaigning organisations were to sign up to the only
state-backed regulator MPRESS, they would be bound by an arbitration
system that is expensive and not designed for not-for-profit news
publishing.For instance, the cost of arbitrating a single claim could be £3,500
if it wins at arbitration plus £3,000 and reasonable £300 per hour
lawyers if it doesn’t. These NGOs would be punished by Section 40 even
though they were never intended to be covered by this legislation.
5. There are unanswered questions
(and pending legal challenges) about the independence of the only
state-backed regulator, IMPRESS which is funded through a trust network,
ultimately leading to a single rich individual Max Mosley. In the last two years, 89up has been working with the newspaper
industry and publishers to understand what the impact of Section 40
would be on smaller publishers, campaign groups and the press.
For all the rhetoric of proponents of Section 40, there are two
questions that we believe need exploring; do you think this legislation
sets a dangerous international precedent, do you think this legislation
is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights?"
The authors then go on to show how the proposed section 40 will impact on anyone in the UK who blogs (and remember it doesnt only apply to those of us who write on political matters. You might blog on something like gardening or bee keeping and this law will still apply to you).
How it will affect blogs?
"Blogs like Left Foot Forward would be caught up by this legislation because it has an editor, multiple authors and publishes news-related materials. If Left Foot Forward
decides not to join the state-backed regulator it could be bankrupted
by a single vexatious claim against it (LFF would have to pay the entire
costs of the case which could be many hundreds of thousands of pounds).
Arguably worse, is if LFF decided to join the regulator. Any enemy of
the website (angry UKIP MEPs) could make complaints against the website
for any critique that LFF published about them.For any case the regulator takes forward, LFF would pay an
arbitration fee of up to £3,500, plus any legal costs that may accrue.
Not many cases would need to be taken forward for LFF to feel the pain.Some campaigners are presenting Section 40 as an opportunity to rein
in the parts of the media they don’t like. But this is to imagine that
the only people who would ever take action against in courts are genuine
victims with legitimate grievances.
In truth, the libel courts are often used by greedy bosses, oligarchs
and crooks to scare newspapers, blogs and campaigners from uncovering
their misdeeds. Section 40 would embolden such people to take even more
actions against already straitened publications, safe in the knowledge
it wouldn’t cost them a penny.Luckily, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport is consulting on
Section 40. We believe it should be repealed in order to protect free
speech for campaign groups and publications like LFF".
I echo everything the authors at Left Foot Forward say about this proposed piece of terrible and draconian legislation and i would urge everyone reading this to support the campaign to repeal section 40 https://repealsection40.org/
I would also stress this isn't a left/right issue - the right wing Guido Fawkes blog has been equally vociferous in opposing section 40 https://order-order.com/tag/section-40/