No-one uses the word “lie” so much any more. We live in an era of fuzzy euphemisms like “post-truth” and “fake news”.
Lie is a big word, venomous and full of baggage. It is unsuitable for a climate in which dubious assertions are so unremarkable they have become the white noise of the social media age.
That age promised us a flattening of the information hierarchy – no longer would truth be handed down by powerful elites. Instead it would pass, unsullied, peer to peer.
But, a billion points of information do not automatically coalesce around the truth, especially when propagandists roam the chat rooms distorting the debate.
Newspapers, magazines, local publications like The Wharf prosper or die according to their regard for the truth. They aim to avoid the beguiling distractions of “post-truth” and provide an alternative, essential and often unfashionable focus on the public interest.
Little wonder that governments seek to curb their curiosity. Little wonder then there is such an affront to natural justice as Section 40 (S40) of the Crime And Courts Act 2013 .
If enacted, S40 would mean that publications, which refused to be dragooned into Impress, the Government’s favoured Press regulator, would be punished for their impudence.
The majority of UK publishers belong to the rival body Ipso, which does the same thing while also keeping the Press insulated from State interference.
S40 says publishers outside Impress would pay the costs of a court claimant even if the newspaper won the case. Punished for doing no wrong.
The outcome is tragically inevitable. It will mean the litigious – the rich and powerful who can afford the lawyers to frame complaints – will be encouraged to launch speculative libel actions safe in the knowledge that the Press will be punished – or silenced – either way.
The most likely consequence is less dramatic but more pernicious. The traditional media will simply have to give up risky investigations.
Campaign group 89UP says: “It is easy to see why a defendant is likely to refrain from publishing the material, retract it, apologise, or quickly agree to pay damages, even where no tort had been committed. This will clearly have a chilling effect on free speech.”
That chilling effect is the perfect breeding ground for a million small acts of obfuscation, delay and misdirection that corrupt discourse and misinform the public at every level and at every turn.
Section 40 has yet to be enacted. A public consultation by the Department of Culture, Media And Sport continues until January 10. There’s still time.
I urge people to go to the consultation website , enjoy a citizen’s imperilled right to be fully informed and then ask the Government to repeal S40.