MP NAMED HERO OF SPEECH

andrewturnerThe Island’s MP, Andrew Turner, was last week praised on ConservativeHome, an influential website for grassroots Conservative members after voting against the Leveson proposals along with 13 other MPs. 

Paul Goodman, the executive editor of Conservative Home and leader writer for the Telegraph lauded Mr Turner as being among ‘this tiny band of heroes of free speech’.  The Island’s MP had voted against the plans for ‘exemplary damages’ to be awarded against newspaper and internet publishers who refuse to sign up to be regulated by a body overseen by a Royal Charter.  Since the proposals were passed by the House of Commons last week there has been a backlash from many media organisations, bloggers and internet publishers.

Mr Turner said: “This Royal Charter underpinned by legislation was dreamt up by representatives from the three main parties in the early hours of the morning – MPs didn’t even see it before the debate started!  Whilst I agree that cross-party consensus was desirable, this compromise cobbled together over pizza and chocolate was simply the lowest common denominator.  We have had a free press since 1694 – this ancient principle deserves better.

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“Since the proposals were published there has been utter confusion.  It has been declared that Hello! Magazine will be affected, but the Angling Times will not.  I don’t read those magazines – but I do believe that if either breaks the law they must face the same penalties.  The Royal Charter would also cover local on-line news sites such as ‘Island Echo’.  There are well-meaning attempts in the House of Lords to exempt small, on-line publishers from the legislation – but again that seems unenforceable.  Why should some people be free to publish what others cannot?  These inconsistencies would undoubtedly be challenged in the courts – and probably successfully.  In any event legislation to control the internet is notoriously difficult to enforce.  Large publishers based outside the UK will continue to publish whatever they want, untroubled by any attempt by politicians to silence them.

“I am particularly concerned about the effects this would have on local and regional press.  Some journalists from national papers are rightly in prison for breaking the law – others will join them.  But Island Echo hasn’t paid policemen for information, tapped phones or harassed vulnerable people – why should they have to help fund a system to deal with the papers that do.  And this is when all local newspapers are already facing difficult times.

“There certainly needs to be a major overhaul of press regulation – but this is not the right answer.  Ordinary people caught up in extraordinary situations like the McCanns, the Dowlers and Chris Jeffreys need proper protection, but this Royal Charter and legislation opens a Pandora’s Box of problems.  Parliament needs to think again.

“A free press is worth standing up for – it must be there to hold politicians to account, not cowed by a body Parliament has created.  That is why I voted against the Royal Charter and almost all major publishers are refusing to sign up to the proposals – I hope they stand firm.”

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