River Wissey Lovell Fuller

The Importance of a Free Press

February 2020

In the UK, we take the freedom of the press for granted, although in reality its evolution has depended on numerous challenges, both by governments and also by individuals. It is necessarily the case that there should be some balance to protect individuals against untruthful statements but the driving rule for our press is that if its true it is fit to be printed, with the exception that there may be state secrets which if divulged would be harmful to the defence of the realm or there may be a judicial order gagging the press. Those seeking such censorship know only too well that, with the internet, secrets are more difficult to keep – for some this is a good thing of course! History has however shown that professional journalists are responsible and often attempts to gag the press merely reflect narrow self-interest. -------------------------------------------------- I am writing this as it has come to my attention that there are individuals in our village who take umbrage at certain factual reports which appear in our local magazines, which are accompanied by threats of legal action and, in one case, the issuance of a lawyers letter accusing the Editor of libel. So that we are clear, the definition of libel is “a published false statement that is damaging to a person's reputation; a written defamation” This so enraged me that I immediately announced that I would support the magazine to the best of my ability, in this case by offering to contribute to any legal costs (an initiative that I am proud to say a number of other readers supported and joined me in) and by publishing under my own name the letter alleged to be libellous on Social Media. I received no challenge to this action! It is important that we all understand that it is the duty of the press, from National Titles to local community broadsheets to carry news and items of interest to the community. Journalists understand that they have a duty to be truthful, and if they are satisfied that what they publish is truthful and the exclusions above do not apply, then they must publish the facts. To threaten a publication or its owners with court action, or to imply that they will be legally responsible for the adverse consequences of publishing a fact, is but an example of an unpleasant bullying culture for which I have no time. It is also a betrayal of our democratic values. There are many places where a free press is but a dream, but it is one of the fundamental building blocks of our society. We need to remember this and we need to make it clear that we as a community will always stand up for our magazines when they publish the truth. They are not to be bullied, and I will certainly always stand solidly in support of these magazines, such as The Village Pump, and of its reporting of facts as they affect our village. The best form of defence against bullies is the harshness of the public gaze and it is my view that where our magazine is threatened it should immediately publish the correspondence in question so that as a community we are aware of attacks on us through attempts to compromise the integrity of our community newspaper.

Tom Ryves Borough Councillor

Copyright remains with independent content providers where specified, including but not limited to Village Pump contributors. All rights reserved.