Peers' changes to data protection bill would have 'chilling effect' on investigative journalism, warns Whittingdale

Changes to data protection legislation put forward by peers would make it impossible to report scandals such as the Oxfam sex abuse claims, a former Culture Secretary has said.

John Whittingdale has warned that the Data Protection Bill, which is due to be debated in the House of Commons on Monday, had been “hijacked” in the House of Lords to include provisions that threaten press freedom.

He warned the “damaging” amendments, which include making publishers pay both sides’ legal costs for court battles over data breaches, win or lose, would have a “chilling effect” on investigative journalism.

The Tory MP’s declaration on Sunday came after the Government announced that it was ditching the second part of the Leveson Inquiry and Section 40 cost penalty laws which would have forced media organisations to sign up to a state-backed regulator or risk having to pay legal costs for both sides in libel, privacy and harassment cases, even if they won.

Whittingdale, Culture Secretary from 2015-16, made the comments in an article in the Sunday Telegraph.

He wrote: “It would have a massive and chilling effect on investigative journalism and would make investigations such as those into the Paradise Papers or the Oxfam scandal impossible to publish.

“These provisions are draconian, unnecessary and very possibly in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

He also said the Government was “absolutely right” not to press ahead with Leveson Two, which was due to look into unlawful conduct within media organisations as well as relations between police and the press.

He said: “There is no need to rake over once again the events of a decade ago at great cost, particularly when the media landscape has changed so dramatically.

“A further Leveson Inquiry would not even cover the increasingly powerful news providers which are online and almost entirely unregulated.”

The decision not to go ahead with the second part of Leveson was described by Labour’s shadow culture secretary Tom Watson as “a bitter blow to the victims of press intrusion”.

Prime Minister Theresa May has said the Government will seek to overturn the House of Lords votes for tighter regulation of the media.

Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

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