COMMENT: Today is your last chance to defend your right to know

Today is your last chance to stand up and defend a free British press - and your right to know.

In an age of fake websites, internet trolls and unregulated social media driven by faceless global algorithms there remains only one source of written news that you can utterly trust.

That is your newspaper and its website.

We investigate. We campaign. We report without fear or favour on everything from contentious planning decisions to threats to your community. We champion where you live. We are on your side.

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But unless you support us in a Government-run consultation which closes at 5pm today (Tuesday January 10) we could be held to ransom by anyone who has something to hide and would rather you were kept in the dark.

In a powerful article last week in The Times, reporter Andrew Norfolk, who broke the Rotherham child sex scandal, explained how investigations such as his could be choked off.

We can list countless other examples of public interest journalism that would face the same fate.

A piece of legislation, the Crime and Courts Act of 2013, was introduced as a blunt instrument to bludgeon the Press following the phone hacking scandal - even though the vast majority of newspapers like this one were found entirely innocent of any wrong doing.

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That Act not only means we are now liable to pay exemplary damages if we are found in court to have made a mistake, but a sleeping clause known as Section 40 could be awakened - subject to the outcome of this consultation - which would force us to pay both sides costs even if our journalism is entirely vindicated.

Any investigation in the public interest could be silenced by anyone with with a vested interest because they would know that no matter how weak their case nor how robust our journalism we would have to pay their vast costs if they tried to take us to court.

Why was this legislation approved in the first place?

Parliament, still nursing its wounds from the exposure by the Daily Telegraph of its expenses excesses and under the cover of the Leveson inquiry into phone-hacking, hatched a plan - without any industry consultation - to force all newspapers, good or bad, to sign up to a new form of regulation under a Royal Charter.

Quite apart from the anathema that anyone who seeks to hold decision-makers to account should submit to a state-approved regulatory structure - the Royal Charter also imposed huge costs around compensatory arbitration which many regional newspapers simply could not afford (even with a caveat that this might be subsequently reviewed in some cases if the damage was too great).

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Instead, the industry established its own new regulator IPSO which costs the taxpayer not a penny but is run entirely independently of us and holds us very effectively to account.

IPSO is tough, forensic and uncompromising with us. But we support it and the Editors’ Code of Practice which it enforces because we know that sometimes we make genuine mistakes and we must be held to account.

This in essence is what we believe Lord Justice Leveson intended and it is working well.

Today, we ask you to support us in our fight for fearless journalism conducted on your behalf.

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We cannot afford morally or financially to sign up to the state-sponsored Royal Charter and if the punitive costs clause is enacted by the secretary of state it will have an equally chilling effect.

We need Section 40 to be repealed and we need your help to preserve the future of press freedom and the future of this newspaper’s campaigning reporting.

You can help by completing an online survey. It doesn’t take long and will make all the difference.

Go to ‘Consultation on the Leveson Inquiry and its implementation’:

Scroll down the page to ‘Respond Online’ and click.

Page 1: Introduction. [Click ‘Next’ at bottom of page]

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Page 2: [Tick box ‘Individual’ and then ‘Next’ at the bottom of the page]

Page 3: [Tick box ‘Neither of the Above’]

Page 4: Which of the following statements do you agree with? [Tick the third box – ‘Government should ask Parliament to repeal all of s.40 now.’]

Do you have evidence in support of your view, particularly in terms of the impacts on the press industry and claimants? [Tick box ‘No’]

Page 5: To what extent will full commencement incentivise publishers to join a recognised self-regulator? Please use evidence in your answer. (Maximum 250 words) [Write answer: ‘It will not.’]

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Page 6: Do you believe that the terms of reference of Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry have already been covered by Part 1 and the criminal investigations? [Tick box: ‘Yes’]

Page 8: Which of the two options set out below best represents your views? [Tick the second box : ‘Terminate The Inquiry’]

To finish completing the consultation, click ‘Next’ and then ‘Done’.

We would also urge you to sign this on-line petition to Repeal Section 40 - it will take seconds to complete.

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