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Daily Mail attack on Max Mosley may be political, but shackling the Press damages democracy

By Will Gore

It is fair to say that Max Mosley and the Daily Mail are not the best of chums. Mosley's antagonism towards elements of the Press is long-running and deep-seated. It is now a decade since he successfully sued the News of the World for revealing that he had been involved in a sadomasochistic orgy.

In the years since - and emboldened by the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal - he has seemingly made it his mission to hold the whole of the British press to account.

To that end, he has (at arm's length, as he is always keen to point out, via a charitable trust) funded a regulator called Impress, which has gained official recognition from a body set up by Royal Charter.

This stands in competition to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso), the self-regulatory organisation funded by mainstream publishers to deal independently with complaints from members of the public about alleged journalistic failings.

Ipso has not been officially recognised and does not wish to seek such recognition, which many publishers regard as amounting to State approval (though the Press Recognition Panel would dispute it).

As things stand, Impress regulates very few well-known titles. The Canary and The Skwawkbox might ring a few bells; other regulated entities, like Common Space, and Libya Business News, might well not.

Some major titles, including The Independent and The Financial Times, continue to stand outside both regulatory systems.

It's all a bit of a rum do, sustained by the threat that, one day, a government might enact Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act, which would potentially leave any publisher not signed up to an officially recognised regulator at risk of bearing the costs of any legal claim brought against it, irrespective of the merits of the case in hand.

The Conservatives promised to scrap the relevant provision, but have been unable to do so, thanks to the Prime Minister's failure to win a majority at last year's general election.

Labour, on the other hand, argues that enacting Section 40 would simply be a fulfilment of the proposals for Press regulation Lord Justice Leveson put forward in 2012.

That's debatable. What is not in doubt, however, is that the party's commitment to triggering the change to the law has enraged many in the news media industry.

Jeremy Corbyn's recent video response to Press claims that he met a Communist spy in the 1980s upped the ante even further, with its promise to the Press barons that "change is coming".

Meanwhile, Max Mosley has been busy engaging lawyers to demand that various newspapers remove from their archives past stories about the orgy case, as well as disputed references about his link to Impress.

In this context, it is not difficult for Press critics to present the Daily Mail's latest assault on Mosley (and by extension - thanks to the half-million quid he has donated to the work of its deputy leader, Tom Watson - the Labour Party) as being driven by a political agenda.

Yet, Mosley is in many ways an unsympathetic figure, notably because of his past links to the Right-wing politics espoused by his father, Oswald.

The discovery by the Mail of an election pamphlet, seemingly published by Mosley in his role as the election agent for a Union Movement candidate in a 1961 by-election, cannot easily be dismissed as a detail from history.

Mosley has questioned whether the document is genuine and argued that it didn't - and doesn't - reflect his views. But the leaflet's content is plainly racist, as Mosley himself was forced to admit in a remarkably uncomfortable interview with Channel 4 News.

Just because the Daily Mail is already antipathetic towards him doesn't mean that unearthing the pamphlet is not good and legitimate journalism.

Likewise, for all that many on the Left have exalted Jeremy Corbyn for having the courage to "take on" the dreaded 'MSM', it seems staggeringly short-sighted to think stricter regulation will only affect Right-leaning newspapers.

Yes, newspapers sometimes go overboard in their critiques. And, yes, it is right that the Press should be held to account.

But in an advanced democracy with a long tradition of journalistic freedom - when once-dominant publishers are already being challenged by myriad other voices thanks to the rise of new and social media - it seems extraordinary that so many people should delight in the idea of bringing certain sections of the Press to heel.

If you don't like the Daily Mail, don't buy it; complain about it, even.

But never imagine that laws which might make life harder for the Mail will not be used by powerful people to make life harder for journalists at any other news outlet you might care to name.

Will Gore worked at the Press Complaints Commission from 2000 to 2011, latterly as director of external and public affairs

Belfast Telegraph

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