Fleet Street warns against privacy legislation

Self-regulation of the press “will sometimes be found to be imperfect”, but it is the best means of maintaining a balance between the right of privacy and the need for freedom of expression, according to national newspaper publishers.

In its submission to the select committee investigating privacy and media intrusion, the Newspaper Publishers Association says: “Given the large number of titles, readers and material published every day in a highly competitive marketplace, it is inevitable that the system will sometimes be found imperfect. The industry is always open to suggestions for improvement.

“Of course there will be people who will feel they have been treated badly.”

The Press Complaints Commission and the Editors’ Code “recognise that from time to time the public interest will justify close and ‘intrusive’ questioning and reporting”, submits the NPA, but adds: “As a general point, the importance of freedom of expression is itself in the public interest.”

The current self-regulatory system is “equally available to all those who receive the attentions of the newspapers, whether rich or poor, powerful or weak, in the public eye or not,” says the submission.

The NPA views are based not on whether there is a need to protect privacy of all citizens, but which is the best and fairest means to do so.

“Privacy laws would do nothing to protect the privacy of ordinary people; they would simply be used by the rich and powerful, or the corrupt, to stop newspapers printing uncomfortable truths,” the NPA states.

“The ability of the self-regulatory system to provide to ordinary people a fast, accessible, relatively simple and straightforward process to resolve their complaints at practically no cost, contrasts very sharply indeed with privacy legislation which would inevitably be complex, provide a field day for lawyers and would, in practice, be inaccessible except to those who could afford it,” says the NPA.

“Fines would be a major deterrent to complainants and would reduce the accessibility of the system to people without large resources.”

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