James Heappey weekly column

This week Parliament has voted on the Data Protection Bill which is important in its own right. However it became of wider interest when a few amendments were made relating to the freedom of our press.

The most ridiculous of the proposals is that a newspaper could be challenged legally over something it has published and would be liable for the legal fees no matter whether the claimant wins or loses. The argument goes that this would make the press much more wary about what they print because they want to avoid legal action altogether.

As someone in public office but without the sort of money required to have a libel lawyer constantly at my disposal, there’s an obvious attraction to this. There have been a couple of occasions where the local or national press have printed stuff about me that wasn’t completely true and where I’ve only been able to afford a grumpy phone call with the editor. However the reality is that had I felt so aggrieved that I wanted satisfaction through the courts, I could have taken that action and it is not an unreasonable mutual deterrent against vexatious cases that both sides carry the risk of paying costs should they lose.

On Monday evening, I caught a bit of Hugh Grant being brilliant in Notting Hill. However up here in Westminster he’s being rather less impressive. The media can be a pain in the arse sometimes for people in public life but it is their job to hold us to account and to shine a light on our misdemeanours. Sometimes they get it wrong. Sometimes they do so criminally and are punished accordingly. But our democracy will be weaker without a fearless free press and so these attempts by celebrities and statist politicians to curb that freedom must be resisted.