Press reform group Hacked Off has accused an MP of attempting to smear it by asking whether it has received any direct funding from Max Mosley.
Anne Main MP wrote to Hacked Off executive director Evan Harris after the Daily Mail uncovered a “racist” by-election leaflet from 1961 bearing Mosley’s name as publisher.
Mosley has said he does not recognise the leaflet, saying it is “offensive and divisive” and “not something I would have ever wished to be associated with”.
Main, who is MP for St Albans, wrote: “I have always been a strong supporter of a free press having the ability to uncover injustices in the public interest, and holding the rich and powerful to account. I would draw your attention to my activities in parliament.
“You will no doubt be aware of coverage in recent days of Max Mosley on TV and in the press. As a former Member of Parliament, you will understand the disgust of colleagues across the whole House about the accusations of racism.”
She said she strongly believed that asking about funding from Mosley to Hacked Off, whether direct or indirect, was in the public interest.
In response, Harris accused Main of trying to smear Hacked Off, which most recently gave voice to the victims of press abuses after the Government cancelled part two of the Leveson Inquiry.
He wrote: “To our knowledge, Mr Mosley has never made a donation to Hacked Off. We have no way of checking every anonymous donation made on line.
“Unfortunately for you, you are wasting your time on your hackneyed attempt to smear Hacked Off, an organisation which represents victims of press abuse against the might of some members of your allies, the News Media Association.”
Asked what, if any, assessment Hacked Off makes of its supporters, Harris added: “Hacked Off receives funding and support from a variety of sources including trusts and members of the public.
“We are not aware of any evidence that our donors have any less bone fides than donors to political parties like yours.”
The historical political pamphlet has been handed, alongside a dossier of information about Mosley, to the police by the Daily Mail who first uncovered it last week.
The paper has said it raises questions over whether Mosley committed perjury during a 2008 privacy case at the High Court against the News of the World in which he denied the leaflet existed.
The Labour Party has said it will refuse any further funding from Mosley after deputy leader Tom Watson received more than £500,000 in donations from the millionaire former motor racing boss.
Press regulator Impress is funded entirely – to the tune of nearly £4m – by the Independent Press Regulation Trust, which in turn is solely funded by the Alexander Mosley Charitable Trust that counts Mosley among its trustees.
A number of Impress members told Press Gazette they were considering their position following the revelations about Mosley.
One day before writing to Harris, Main addressed Prime Minister Theresa May in Parliament about the accusations surrounding Mosley.
She asked: “A free, independent press is vital to our country. Does my right honourable friend share my concerns about the links that Max Mosley has with Impress, and his links with some of our leading politicians?”
In response, May said some people had been “surprised” by Mosley’s connections, adding: “I absolutely agree with my honourable friend that a free press is very important: it underpins our democracy.
“Whatever those in the press say about us and whatever they write about us, it is important that they are able to hold politicians and the powerful to account and shine a light in some of the darkest corners of our society, and while I am Prime Minister, that will never change.”
Picture: REUTERS/Neil Hall