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Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Journalists

Journalists condemn Defamation Bill hijack


RELEASE DATE: 27 February 2013


[frame align=”right”]CIoJ logo [/frame]Amendments to the Defamation Bill, which were passed on Monday (25 Feb) by the House of Lords, amount to a serious mis-use of the democratic process, says the Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIoJ).

“The so-called Leveson clause, which was inserted into the Bill at its recent second hearing in the House of Lords, and passed at its third hearing on Monday, was a blatant political move and a shabby attempt to hijack a piece of legislation which would benefit Press and public alike,” said Amanda Brodie, chair of the CIoJ’s Professional Practices Board.

“The Defamation Bill is a long-overdue reform of the laws of libel, giving greater protection to free speech and public interest, as well as addressing other important issues such as libel tourism and the new single publication rule relating to defamatory material on the internet,” she said.

“If the Government rejects the amendments when the Bill goes back to the Commons then the Defamation Bill could be dragged down with them. This Bill is the result of years of public consultations and exhaustive research, yet one hasty change, pushed into the Bill by Lord Puttnam just days before it was due to be voted on, could well sink the entire thing.”

Ms Brodie added: “This just goes to highlight how political interference works and why any link to politicians should be avoided at all costs when considering new regulatory systems for the Press – a point which we made strongly at a meeting we had last week with the Department of Culture Media and Sport.”

However the CIoJ was pleased to note that an important amendment to the new clause, which was brought by Lord Fowler during yesterday’s Lords debate, was accepted by the House. This relates to the award of exemplary damages. The proposal stated that in awarding damages, the court shall take into account whether the defendant had sought advice from the regulatory board before publication. These lines have now been struck from the Bill.

“We were very pleased that Lord Fowler, himself a former journalist, recognised the importance of resisting anything which may be construed as pre-publication censorship,” said Ms Brodie.

“We applaud Lord Fowler for his comment during the debate that there is often very great pressure not to publish and the House should recognise just how sensitive an issue that is to journalists.

“This clause, if left unchanged, would have gone beyond what Lord Leveson intended, as he was keen to point out that no-one should have the power to prevent publication by any one at any time.

It also illustrates the dangers of unintentional damage to Press freedoms as a result of hasty legislation of the type being pushed for by celebrities and politicians with a grudge to bear against the Press.”