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Government to close Leveson Inquiry and seek repeal of S40

THE Government will formally close the Leveson Inquiry and will not commence Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, seeking its repeal at the earliest opportunity, after the public rejected both measures, Culture Secretary Matt Hancock, has announced.

After examining the 174,000 responses to the Consultation on the Leveson Inquiry and its implementation Mr Hancock said: “We do not believe that reopening this costly and time-consuming public inquiry is the right way forward.

"During the consultation, we also found serious concerns that Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 would exacerbate the problems the press face rather than solve them. Mr Speaker, we have decided not to commence Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 and to seek repeal at the earliest opportunity.”

Responding to the announcement, the News Media Association (NMA) said: “We welcome the Government’s announcement today that the Leveson Inquiry will be formally closed and that it will seek to repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act at the earliest opportunity. The consultation response showed overwhelming public support for the work of newspapers and their importance to our democracy

"Both these measures would have disrupted and destabilised the news media industry at a time when it is already grappling with the huge challenges of funding the provision of high quality journalism in the digital environment.

"It is now vital that similar, but potentially even more damaging, anti-press clauses in the Data Protection Bill are removed and we look forward to working with Government on its review into the press industry. We will find real, tangible solutions that create a sustainable future for journalism which the public expects and demands.

The Society of Editors, which has campaigned strongly against the implementation of Section 40 and Leveson Part 2, also welcomed the decision.

The Society of Editors is pleased to welcome the Culture Secretary’s announcement [today] and sees this as a common-sense approach to the issue of how the media is regulated here in the UK," said executive director Ian Murray.

It is heartening to note the strong support the Secretary of State gives for a vibrant and robust, but most of all independent, media here in the UK and the important role that this plays in our nation’s democracy.

Of course the debate will continue into all aspects of the media and this is only right and proper that it should. However, the decision that a costly Leveson 2 inquiry will not now go ahead and today’s renewed pledge by the government to lift the very real threat posed to the existence of some local and national newspapers by Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act is extremely welcome."

Consultation responses overwhelmingly in favour of repeal

Mr Hancock told the House of Commons that responses to the consultation were overwhelmingly in favour of the repeal of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 and against the reopening of Leveson for part 2. 

Respondents were worried that it would impose further financial burdens, especially on the local press. One high profile figure put it very clearly. He said: ‘Newspapers…are already operating in a tough environment. These proposals will make it tougher and add to the risk of self-censorship.

“‘The threat of having to pay both sides’ costs – no matter what the challenge – would have the effect of leaving journalists questioning every report that named an individual or included the most innocuous data about them'.

"He went on to say that Section 40 risks ‘damaging the future of a paper that you love’ and that the impact will be to ‘make it much more difficult for papers…to survive’. These are not my words Mr Speaker, but the words of Alastair Campbell talking about the chilling threat of Section 40. And if anyone knows about threats to the press it’s Alastair Campbell.”

'IPSO taken significant steps'

Mr Hancock welcomed the significant changes made by publications and IPSO, the Independent Press Standards Organisation. He said: “IPSO has been established and now regulates 95 per cent of national newspapers by circulation. It has taken significant steps to demonstrate its independence as a regulator.

"And in 2016, Sir Joseph Pilling concluded that IPSO largely complied with Leveson’s recommendations. There have been further improvements since and I hope more to come. In November last year, IPSO introduced a new system of low-cost arbitration.”

Concluding his statement, the Secretary of State stressed the unique and essential role of a free, independent and vibrant press to democracy: “At national and local levels, a press that can hold the powerful to account remains an essential component of our democracy.“Britain needs high-quality journalism to thrive in the new digital world. We seek a press - a media - that is robust, and independently regulated. That reports without fear or favour. The steps I have set out today will help give Britain a vibrant, independent and free press that holds the powerful to account and rises to the challenges of our times.”

  • Members of Impress are considering pulling out the state-sponsored press regulator following allegations about Max Mosley, reports The Times.

The article tells of widely-publicised allegations that Mr Mosley published a ‘racist leaflet’ in 1961 and lied to the High Court about its existence, and that a Mosley family trust bankrolls the state-recognised press regulator.

News Media Association (NMA) analysis has found that a total of 15 titles have left Impress or closed, including websites that appear dormant or to have been suspended, since Impress first published a list of members in January 2016.  Out of the 13 titles first announced as members by Impress in January 2016, four are no longer listed as members and appear to have left the regulator. 

In addition to objections to Impress' funding arrangements, the NMA has also raised repeated concerns about the views of its senior IMPRESS staff about certain sections of the press industry.  

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