Inquiry into complaints alleging corrupt relationships between police and newspaper organisations

Part of Policing and Crime Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:15 pm on 10th January 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay 6:15 pm, 10th January 2017

It is a pleasure to speak in the debate, and, in particular, to follow some of the passionate speeches we have heard. I intended to focus on Lords amendments 136 to 142, but my thoughts have been drawn to comments that have been made about the press in the context of other amendments.

We have heard about the Aldershot News & Mail, but each week thousands of homes in Torbay receive a publication that reports on local news and local issues and gives the odd opinion on them. It is called “my weekly e-mail update”, and is subject only to libel laws, and to what I am happy to talk about and defend as the local Member of Parliament.

I think we should bear it in mind that we are living in a completely different era, when more and more of the media is moving online. There can be no such thing as a press regulator when there is no press—when websites can be based anywhere in the world and it is difficult to track them down even under our own libel laws, let alone regulate them. The era when people walked down to the newsagent each morning and again each evening to buy a local newspaper has pretty much come to an end. The fake news stories about which people talk—especially in connection with recent elections in the United States—were not put out by newspapers. They were not published by print media; they were published by various people online. There are websites that are effectively “clickbait”, featuring misleading headlines that people will merrily share or stories that do not really get to the nub. A story involving an hon. Member was recently circulated online. Anyone who knew the facts would know that it was flagrantly misleading, but that would not be clear to people who just read the headline online. Will that story be affected by press regulation? No. It is nothing to do with press regulation, because it is not printed material.

When we debate these matters, we must be aware that the era when only a press publication could circulate a story has disappeared. We should think about what we are doing when it comes to a special system that puts them at a disadvantage, given that, increasingly, they are no longer as dominant as they were. It is more likely that local newspapers will close than that they will find themselves being the arbiters of all opinion. Most constituents are more than able to use their own common sense and take many of the claims that they see both online and in the print media with a pinch of salt, but we have libel laws, and we need to remember that.