Government closes Leveson Inquiry and bids to repeal Section 40

Owen Meredith

Last week, the government responded to the consultation on the Leveson Inquiry and its implementation, with Culture Secretary Matt Hancock MP announcing the closure of the Leveson Inquiry, seven years after it was set up and six years after Part One reported.

In a statement to Parliament, Mr Hancock  (pictured left) also confirmed that following the consultation, the government will seek to repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act. This penalises publishers who are not part of a state-recognised regulator, forcing them to pay costs for libel cases – win or lose.

He 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.”

Only 7% of respondents to the consultation favoured full commencement of Section 40, while 79% backed full repeal.

Responding to the announcement, PPA Managing Director Owen Meredith commented: “This is welcome news for the whole industry. The government has listened to our concerns about the wide ranging, damaging and totally unfair consequences of Section 40 to magazine and business media publishers. They have agreed with our position and decided not to commence Section 40. This is a hard-won victory for the PPA and the industry.

“While this is welcome news, it will no doubt harden opposition in those quarters that are determined to see the end of a free press in this country. The PPA is working hard to ensure the anti-press clauses inserted into the Data Protection Bill, currently being debated in Parliament, are overturned and the protections afforded to journalists under the current Data Protection Act are retained.

"Furthermore, we look forward to working with the government on the new press sustainability review which has been established to consider the overall health of the news and magazine media sector, and PPA will be feeding in to the government’s work as they look at how the media is adapting to the digital market - including the role and impact of online platforms and the digital advertising supply chain.”

In his statement, Mr Hancock praised the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) as the new industry regulator established after the Leveson Inquiry, to which the vast majority of magazine publishers voluntarily subscribe.

 He said: "IPSO has been established and now regulates 95% 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."

He acknowledged the challenges faced by publishers in a multi-platform climate with declining print circulations, but growing brand reach, adding: “The way we consume news has changed dramatically…although digital circulation is rising, publishers are finding it much harder to generate revenue online. In 2015, for every £100 newspapers lost in print revenue they gained only £3 in digital revenue.”

“A foundation of any successful democracy is a sound basis for democratic discourse. This is under threat from these new forces that require urgent attention. These are today’s challenges and this is where we need to focus.”

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