Friday 26 November 2010

Lord Black: 'CFAs biggest threat to press freedom'

Lord Guy Black of Brentwood, the Telegraph director and chairman of Pressbof, has warned that lawyers' Conditional Fee Arrangements are the most serious threat to press freedom - and a possible component in the closure of local newspapers.

Speaking in the House of Lords, Lord Black said: "I would go so far as to say that, even bearing in mind the highly unwelcome growth of the so-called 'super injunction', there is currently no more serious threat to media freedom and to the public’s right to know than the unfettered use by claimant lawyers of CFAs backed by the toxic combination of 100% success fees and 'after the event insurance.'

"First of all there is cost. It is not uncommon, as evidence submitted to Lord Justice Jackson's review revealed, that libel and privacy actions against newspapers can often end up with damages of as little as £5,000 - but costs of twenty times or more that amount, a frightening prospect that could put some small publications out of business.

"I cannot overstate enough the difficult commercial situation many publications are still in. The perfect storm of structural change and recession has left many bruised and battered. Too many local newspapers – the engines of local democracy – have already folded, and there may be others. And CFAS may well be a component in that.

"Even more important is the chilling impact on free speech. It is now too common that newspapers will fail to defend a claim, no matter how spurious it might be or how important the issue, because they cannot afford the risk. CFAs have become a distorting factor in the editorial process, with issues often avoided because of fear of the consequences and the scrutiny role that is inherent in a free press undermined."

Via Society of Editors

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