Select Committee hears final evidence

Statutory Reynolds defence would erode press freedom, Mark Stephens tells MPs

In its last evidence session for its inquiry into press standards, privacy and libel, the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee heard from Charmian Gooch of Global Witness, solicitor Mark Stephens and Barbara Follet MP, Minister for Culture, Creative Industries & Tourism.

Charmian Gooch, co-founder of the not-for-profit campaign group, compared the impact of UK libel and privacy laws on media organisations vs. not-for profit organisations. She said that cut-backs in journalistic resources at media organisations meant that investigative reporting was increasingly being undertaken by NGOs.

She said that it was time consuming and costly for researchers to make sure they satisfied all of the requirements of a Reynolds defence, but added that it was "crucial" due to the high legal costs involved in fighting a case. Gooch also urged the committee to create a one-year cut-off point in the limitation period for internet publication.

Mark Stephens of Stephens Finers Innocent also gave evidence to the committee. He advised the government not to alter the Reynolds defence by putting it in statute, saying that if it was used on a statutory basis where it had to be passed through Parliament, then it would begin to erode as a defence. "In common law it is safe" he told the committee.

Barbara Follet MP defended self-regulation of the press, whilst also calling for the PCC to ensure published apoligies were made more prominent. She also partially supported Max Mosley’s call for prior notification to individuals, saying that she thought it should be part of the PCC Code but not statute.

A report from the select committee is expected later this year. The Committee’s next inquiry will be into the financial problems facing the press, including in particular the local press.