After the death of Max Mosley earlier this week, newspapers falsely smeared him as “anti-press” and an enemy of press freedom.
This is wholly untrue. In fact, Max campaigned for pioneering new mechanisms and laws to protect and enhance genuine press freedom.
The UK’s only press regulator to ban politicians from interference
Press freedom advocates recognise that politicians must be kept away from media regulators. That is why the Leveson Report recommended that future press regulators should ban politicians from any involvement.
Max helped bring those proposals to life.
A Trust established by Max Mosley in memory of his late son Alexander financed IMPRESS: the first UK press regulator to meet the Leveson requirements, and to be constitutionally protected from state interference.
But despite being the largest press regulator in the UK, with over a hundred publisher members, IMPRESS has been boycotted by the national press who would prefer to be members of a complaints-handler called IPSO.
IPSO’s Chairman is a politician who was, until relatively recently, a member of the Government. The hypocrisy of newspapers which feigned concern for press freedom over the Leveson proposals, only to voluntarily sign up to a politician-run complaints-handler, is breathtaking.
But one legacy of Max Mosley’s courage and generosity is that there is an effective press regulator for newspapers whose commitment to press freedom, and regulation free from state and industry control, is sincere. Without him, such publishers would have nowhere to turn.
Protection from wealthy litigants
Max also campaigned for regulated newspapers to be protected from the risk of being forced to pay out ruinous costs to wealthy litigants, who refused to pursue justice through a low-cost form of arbitration.
Newspapers rejected this proposal. In fact, they not only rejected it for themselves, but the national newspaper industry’s lobbyists the News Media Association campaigned for all newspapers to be deprived of this protection, including independent and local titles (over 100 of whom would have otherwise benefited).
As newspapers loudly complain about the way Max stood up for himself and his family when libelled by the News of the World in 2008, they miss out one crucial detail: if the Leveson system which Max supported had been around in 2008 and the News of the World had joined it, he could have used low-cost arbitration to obtain justice – at a far lower cost to both sides. News UK’s newspapers continue to reject that system to this day.
Hypocrites and cowards
In summary, Max made a significant and positive difference to press freedom in the UK.
The national press have rejected the freedoms he fought for. With the blessing of the Government, they have chosen to join a sham regulator run by a politician while lobbying against a provision that would allow independently regulated (and disproportionately smaller and local) publishers to benefit from protection against costly legal action by wealthy litigants.
In falsely claiming that he was an opponent of the free press, they are hypocrites. In failing to set out the facts, they are cowards.
Those who believe that press freedom constitutes hacking the phones of victims of crime, publishing harmful lies, and exposing to the world the secrets of people who have done nothing wrong, may well object to the views Max held.
But for those of us who believe that press freedom means stopping at nothing to expose corruption, holding the powerful to account for wrongdoing, and shining a light on injustice, Max was a brave, courageous and effective advocate.
The response of national newspaper editors to Max’s death says more about them and the superficiality of their claims to stand for press freedom than the man himself.