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Corbyn urged to clarify stance on press freedom following Czech spy row

The Society of Editors told the Labour leader not to use new rules to silence critics.

Jeremy Corbyn is facing calls to clarify his position on press freedom after his warning to media barons that “change is coming”.

The Society of Editors – which campaigns for and on behalf of a free press in the UK – urged the Labour leader to spell out what changes his party was considering so they could be openly debated.

Mr Corbyn issued his warning last week after attacking some national newspapers for their coverage of claims he passed information to a Czech spy during the Cold War.

While he insisted that he supported a free press, he said media bosses were “right to be worried” about the prospect of a Labour government.

In a video posted on his Twitter feed, he said much of the press “isn’t very free at all” and was controlled by “billionaire tax exiles”, adding: “We’ve got news for them: change is coming”.

In a statement, the society’s executive director Ian Murray called on Mr Corbyn to “resist any temptation” to impose new restrictions to try to silence views opposed to his own.

“The Society of Editors does not align itself with any political party nor stance, however we do stand for a free press, a self-regulated press, and we are concerned that in his statement Mr Corbyn appears to be suggesting Labour have plans to change the media landscape in the UK,” he said.

“If that is the case then we would ask him to clarify what those proposed changes are and to urge him to resist any temptation to attempt to silence voices that may be opposed to his point of view through press restrictions.”

The society calls on Mr Corbyn to explain what changes his party has in mind so that these can be openly debated. Ian Murray, Society of Editors executive director

Mr Murray added: “The media in the UK is rightly held up as a beacon of freedom throughout the world, particularly in those countries where politicians and rulers close down any voices of opposition to their power.

“While we are pleased to note that Mr Corbyn recognises the role of a free press in a free society, he has also announced that Labour does have plans to change the media landscape in some way.

“The society calls on Mr Corbyn to explain what changes his party has in mind so that these can be openly debated.”

Mr Corbyn has dismissed the claims, which originally appeared in The Sun, that he passed information to an agent of the Czech StB intelligence agency during the 1980s as “nonsense”.

The Labour leader’s office has acknowledged he had tea in the Commons with a Czech diplomat, but said any claim that he was “an agent, asset or informer for any intelligence agency is entirely false and a ridiculous smear”.

A Labour spokesman said: “A free press is essential for our democracy. But at the moment much of our press isn’t very free, it’s controlled by billionaire tax exiles who are determined to dodge paying their fair share for our vital public services.

“We don’t want to close it down, we want to open it up.

“The change Jeremy refers to is a Labour government that would make the wealthiest 5% pay their fair share, clamp down on tax dodging and tax havens, and is committed to Leveson II and a review of media plurality.

“It’s also a recognition that the whole industry is changing, with social media meaning the influence of the media barons is on the wane.”

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