St Albans MP continues fight for press freedom in face of Data Protection Bill amendments

St Albans MP Anne Main in the House of Commons.

St Albans MP Anne Main in the House of Commons. - Credit: Archant

MP Anne Main has continued her campaign against overbearing press regulation and called for transparency from regulators on their funding links.

On Wednesday MPs will debate proposed rule changes that would strangle the freedom of the press and impose financial burden on those newspapers that do not sign up to state regulator Impress.

Anne said: ‘We must protect and defend the freedom of the press in this country. The public deserve a press that has the ability to shine a light on injustices and hold the powerful to account.”

Labour Party deputy leader Tom Watson, who has received over £500,000 in donations from his friend Max Mosley has tabled an amendment to the Data Protection Bill. The amendment would force newspapers who do not sign up to state regulator Impress pay the costs of litigation in any case brought against them, even if they were to win.

Mrs Main said: “This amendment is extremely worrying. Newspapers would have to live in fear of printing any contentious story for fear of cost sanctions should they be taken to court. This amendment would essentially end press freedom.

“I am extremely concerned that questionable individuals, such as Max Mosley, who has supported Mr Watson, do not have links to groups that seek to muzzle the press.”

The funding of press regulators, such as Impress and campaign groups like Hacked Off, have come under intense scrutiny in recent months after allegations of racism were made about leading campaigner and Impress backer, Max Mosley.

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Mrs Main wrote to Hacked Off a number of times over recent months asking for clarity and transparency on their funding. Hacked Off said that they “receive funding and support from a variety of sources including trusts and members of the public”.

When asked about Max Mosley, Dr Evan Harris, executive director of Hacked Off said: “To our knowledge, Mr Mosley has never made a donation to Hacked Off. We have no way of checking every anonymous donation made online.”

This response prompted Mrs Main to raise a number of further questions. In her response Mrs Main asked: “Are you aware of any other employees or key members of Hacked Off who have been in receipt of payment, either directly, or indirectly, from Max Mosley?”

This question followed reports at the time that the Mosley family trust had contributed £45,000 to fund research into a book that Professor Brian Cathcart, founder of Hacked Off was writing.

Mrs Main also pointed out that Hacked Off’s website says they “conduct due diligence over all donations” even though Dr Harris’ response said they have, “no way of checking every anonymous donation”.

The St Albans MP called on Hacked Off to ask Mr Mosley if he has ever made donations to their organisation. Hacked Off are yet to respond to these further questions and requests.

Mrs Main said: “Why wouldn’t Hacked Off respond to these legitimate questions, especially if they have nothing to hide? This lack of transparency is another example of why no newspapers are willing to sign up to Impress or any other state regulator. These groups promote transparency when it suits them and are unwilling to come clean with who is pulling the strings behind the scenes.

“I sincerely hope MPs vote against this overbearing imposition on press freedom. The public deserve balanced and free reporting and we have a duty to protect that.”