Data Protection Bill

Written evidence submitted by the Press Association (DPB11)

This year, the Press Association celebrates its 150th anniversary as the national news agency of the UK and Ireland. The services now offered by the Press Association, which was established in 1868, ensure that the public receives fast accurate news from every corner of the British Isles, including detailed coverage of Parliaments, Assemblies, High Court and Crown Court. Our trusted content reflects every aspect of life from breaking news to sport and entertainment, with a constant stream of verified stories, pictures, video and graphics distributed to newsrooms at home and across the world.

But all the PA’s services will be put at risk by costs sanctions proposed in the Data Protection Bill, which could, and doubtless will, be used to devastating effect against the Press Association as well as all other news agencies and international, national and local newspapers and magazines.

The provisions in the Bill jeopardise our bedrock news services that ensure open government and open justice. The Press Association has – completely lawfully – chosen to join Ipso, the Independent Press Standards Organisation, which is funded by the news industry. Our 400 journalists and editorial staff must adhere to the Editors’ Code of Practice and the standards this sets, over and above the demands of the myriad laws that impact upon reporting. Yet, simply because we have, for reasons of principle, chosen to join Ipso and not a regulator approved under the Royal Charter system, clauses 168 and 169 of the Data Protection Bill will require courts dealing with claims against us of data protection breaches to rule that we must pay all the legal costs – our own and our accuser’s – however false any allegation against us proves to be.

To take just one example of the pernicious consequences of the Bill’s costs sanctions: one of the Press Association’s most important services is reporting on the criminal and civil justice system. The Bill will obstruct this. Many people who are subject to official investigation and court proceedings wish to escape publicity, and try to repress inquiry and report of any investigation, arrest, court proceedings and the outcome, and to prevent photography in streets surrounding the court. They also seek to remove links to published reports and excise them from media archives. They will use any legal means to kill press reports – and this Bill gives them that weapon.

Indeed, the Bill’s costs sanctions clauses would even mean that a convicted criminal wishing to deter reporting of his case could launch the most hopeless of data protection claims against the Press Association safe in the knowledge that the court which struck out his claim would also be obliged to order us to pay his legal costs as well as our own.

With the Bill freeing claimants from any liability for costs, the Press Association could face repeated claims, meaning that we could be faced with having to pay costs for claimants, with payments running to tens of thousands of pounds for each case – as well as our own legal costs – even if each time the court vindicated the accuracy and lawfulness of our reporting. Few agencies and media organisations have the resources to withstand such consequences of the Bill.

The Bill’s costs sanctions clauses are not simply a threat to the Press Association’s court reporting services. The Bill is a powerful disincentive to any court coverage by local and national press, which presents a major threat to open justice.

But multiply that threat to our court reporting to the rest of the Press Association’s work as one of the UK’s most respected and trusted news agencies. What other claims - and associated costs liabilities - could be directed at the work of all our 400 journalists and editorial staff, who each week produce 1,000,000 words, 2,000 images and 200 videos, encompassing everything from hard news to the latest entertainment exclusive? The Bill could create a proliferation of data protection claims against us which we would then be forced to fund, simply because we have chosen to be regulated and adhere to a tough regulatory regime over and above the law, but without joining a State-sponsored regulator. That threat applies not just to the Press Association, but to every other news agency, newspaper and magazine, local or national, UK or overseas, in print or online.

We condemn these clauses. They would punish the Press Association for acting lawfully and for reasons of principle. They would impose sanctions upon the Press Association for the most scrupulous, lawful reporting in the public interest. They breach the European Convention on Human Rights, and will seriously chill freedom of expression.

We are delighted that the Government has decided to end the Leveson Inquiry and we now urge similar common sense to be shown by making amendments to the Data Protection Bill to remove the threat to media freedom in the UK

Peter Clifton


March 2018


Prepared 12th March 2018