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PinkNews warns that new law could make exposing homophobia harder

PinkNews.co.uk Staff Writer January 11, 2017
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PinkNews has joined other UK-headquartered news organisations in calling for the repeal of a controversial law that could force publishers to pay the costs of the people who sue them, even if the publisher wins the case.

The Chief Executive of PinkNews, Benjamin Cohen has warned that the new law may make it harder to expose homophobes and transphobes.

Every major UK based news organisation has voiced its opposition to the clauses in the law, which have not yet been applied. A public consultation by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has just closed for submissions. The Culture Secretary Karen Bradley must now decide whether to apply the controversial Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013.

The following letter was sent to Karen Bradley by Benjamin Cohen.

Dear Secretary of State,

Re: Consultation on the Leveson Inquiry and its implementation

I am the founder and Chief Executive of PinkNews Media Group Ltd [PinkNews]. Prior to joining PinkNews full time, I worked for six years as a specialist correspondent for Channel 4 News covering media and technology.

PinkNews provides news, reviews, and comment for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and we are the most read and watched LGBT publication in the world. At our annual awards last October, we recognised David Cameron as a PinkNews Ally and the event was also addressed by the Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn. In her recorded address to the PinkNews Awards, the Prime Minister Theresa May highlighted the “fundamental role that you [PinkNews] play in furthering the cause of equality as the most read and watched media in the UK, America, Australia and beyond.”

Since we launched in August 2005, we’ve grown at a phenomenal rate. Our success has not been easy: there are significant commercial pressures on creating news but what has been assured is that we have grown within a country with a historical commitment to free speech and a free press – entirely free from political and state interference –  which has nurtured debate and the ability to freely tell the truth to those in power. For an organisation like ours, it cannot be understated how important this is.

Throughout my career, I have observed that freedom of speech and LGBT rights go hand-in-hand. We have featured stories from all over the world where the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are trampled upon. The simple fact that news organisations can be punished for telling the truth is something that one would be normally expected only in a dictatorship. If Section 40 was enacted in any other country, we would expect the strongest condemnation from the UK Government as it is an anathema to free speech.

We have followed the debate on press freedom with great interest. We are mindful that due to our continued growth, PinkNews will soon fall under the definition of ‘relevant publisher’ of Section 41 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 as it will be outside the exemptions set out in Schedule 15.

Impress
Impress is the only organisation that has, and seemingly ever will, seek approval from the Press Recognition Panel. I have studied Impress and have been lobbied by them and leading politicians to join it.

Impress has no serious organisations to regulate (or pay for it) and I have serious doubts as to whether it is credible at all. I can, therefore, understand why there has been so much concerted effort in attempting to persuade PinkNews to submit itself to regulation by it. I note also, as an aside, that one of the few publications that has voluntarily signed up to the regulator has previously been exposed for publishing vile homophobia by PinkNews. The publication’s homophobic content was later condemned by Members from all sides of the House.

I have further extreme concerns about the methods that Impress utilises in order to signup publications. Aside from the on-going approaches by politicians, recently, my team at PinkNews and myself have received a barrage of ‘sales’ calls and emails from Impress. The behaviour employed by the organisation seems more akin to double glazing salesmen or someone selling a ‘dodgy’ insurance policy. I have attached for your reference articles published by BuzzFeed and the Daily Mail documenting the inappropriate approaches that Impress made to PinkNews.

More fundamentally, the whole organisation is funded by one wealthy donor. This cannot be healthy and makes it laughable to suggest it is or ever could be truly independent.
Given that there is a choice of just one regulator, which clearly does not have the confidence of the industry, it is unethical to force PinkNews or any other publisher to submit to its authority.

Ethical standards
PinkNews applies the highest editorial and ethical standards. Our journalists are committed to breaking news stories in the public interest and holding organisations, businesses, politicians, and individuals to account.

We already operate in an environment and are, of course, subject to numerous criminal and civil laws which impact upon our reporting. We are ever mindful and respect the law in relation to data protection defamation, harassment, contempt of court, court restrictions etc.

As a result of highlighting homophobia and transphobia by individuals and organisations, we attract numerous vexatious complaints every year. It is not unfair to say we also attract the attention, via complaints, of homophobes and transphobes from across the world.

At the moment, we have the ability to rebuff complaints without merit and no one has successfully brought a case against PinkNews in our 11-year history. But Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act will serve to encourage complainants and their lawyers to pursue PinkNews through the courts simply for telling the truth and potentially leave us with crippling costs.

Conclusion
PinkNews is a small but growing business with global ambitions. The majority of our readers are based in the United States, not in the United Kingdom, despite our London base.  We have been able to grow and act as a beacon across the world to a global community that is often oppressed because of free, unfettered speech.

We currently receive multiple vexatious and complaints that are entirely without merit that, if Section 40 was enacted, could conceivably be fashioned into legal disputes which could put a leading UK digital success story under undue financial strain. I am of no doubt that if such a regime were enacted abroad, the UK government would condemn it in the strongest terms.

Impress is simply not a credible regulator and its funding arrangements suggest it never could be. It is hard for us to imagine a circumstance where it would be in the best interest of our business or our seven million readers or tens of millions of video viewers to submit to its regulatory authority.

Section 40 should be repealed at the earliest opportunity.

Whilst this consultation is concerned with only Section 40, we have strong views on the concept of Exemplary Damages and would welcome an opportunity to discuss them further.

Yours sincerely,

Benjamin Cohen

Chief Executive, PinkNews Media Group Ltd

[Attached – BuzzFeed, 30 November 2016 & Daily Mail, 05 January 2017]

Related topics: Impress, Press recognition panel

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