Any local reporter would be pleased to hear a leading politician stand up for public interest journalism. Jeremy Corbyn did just that in his speech on media reform yesterday. But let’s not forget that Labour – and Corbyn himself – are adamant supporters of Leveson 2. Make no mistake: this is a dangerous attempt to muzzle local newspapers and expose reporters like me to crippling and needless law-suits.
The most worrying aspect of Leveson 2 is Section 40, which would force papers to pay legal costs for people suing them regardless of whether they won their case. This would make the work of journalists much more difficult. After all, many of our best stories – such as yesterday’s splash in the Manchester Evening News about a doctor who had allegedly been getting the causes of death wrong in dozens of post-mortems – would have probably been canned for fear of messy legal ramifications.
In fact, it’s hard to think of any of our investigations which wouldn’t have been significantly more difficult (or even impossible) under the Leveson regime. Reports on Manchester city council’s failure to record the deaths of rough sleepers (which also featured in The Spectator), would likely never have seen the light of day. And nor, too, would the report in the MEN into lapses in care within NHS maternity hospitals that led to the entirely avoidable deaths of mothers and babies.
Like many local newspapers, the MEN has campaigned against dangerous press regulation. Sadly, though, we’ve struggled to persuade Labour MPs to support us, largely because few of them have bothered to look into exactly what these proposals could mean for us. Let’s not forget that only one Labour MP voted against Ed Miliband’s attempt to force Leveson 2 through Parliament back in May. What’s more, Corbyn for all his warm words yesterday has repeatedly signalled his support for the plan. It’s clear that his ‘Change is Coming’ slogan is a thinly-veiled threat to the free press, however the Labour leader dresses up his plans.
So, while I’m glad that Corbyn is reading our work – and singling me out for praise – it’s important that he recognises the damage that his plans for media reform would do to the press he claims to support. If there’s a consistent theme to Corbyn’s media-bashing, it’s the need to stick it to the rich and powerful. Take it from a reporter: the best way to do that is to leave us alone to do our jobs in peace.
Jennifer Williams is the Manchester Evening News’ social affairs editor