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Whittingdale comments on Section 40 reflect concerns of newspaper industry


11 July 2017

SoE

Warnings by John Whittingdale that it is unlikely that the government will be able to fulfil its manifesto commitment to repealing Section 40 reflect the serious concerns of the newspaper industry, the Society of Editors has said.

The comments by Whittingdale, delivered as part of the Independent Press Standards Organisation’s annual lecture last week, also saw the former Culture Secretary predict that the Conservative Party’s lack of a parliamentary majority would put any immediate attempt to repeal the legislation at risk of defeat. 

He said: “We have a government without a majority in parliament, and that obviously makes the government much less able to be sure of carrying through its legislation, and actually makes it vulnerable to defeat. So even though the Conservative manifesto pledge still holds, I suspect that the “Crime and Courts Act s.40 Repeal Bill” won’t be seen for, certainly, the immediate future.”

The Society of Editors, which has led the fight to oppose Section 40 with its #saveyourighttoknow campaign, has called on parliament to recognise the chilling effect Section 40 poses and to unite to repeal the controversial legislation.

It said: “The comments by John Whittingdale that the government is unlikely in the near future to fulfill its manifesto commitment to repeal Section 40 reflect the serious concerns of the newspaper industry.

“As recognised by both the former Culture Secretary and the thousands of people that responded to the Leveson consultation, Section 40 poses a serious threat to the survival of both the regional press in particular and investigative journalism as a whole. Contrary to the views of those that support Section 40, self-interest does not guide opposition to this legislation – the fundamental principle that justice should be fair does. No publisher would take any kind of risk when faced with costs provisions under the legislation and this poses a serious threat to the public’s right to know.

Whittingdale, Member of Parliament for constituencies in Maldon since 1992, also went on to warn that the House of Lords may once again attempt to force through the provisions in the Crime and Courts Act 2013 by tagging it on to other legislation.

The Society of Editors, which has previously condemned attempts to legislate through the House of Lords on matters relating to press regulation, warned that any attempt to push through the legislation would be judged as 'appalling'. 

It added: “The fact that we now find ourselves in a situation where a former government minister is predicting the further hijacking of legislation by the House of Lords to push through this legislation is extremely worrying. Any further attempt during the next Parliament to force through costs provisions would rightly be judged as an appalling misuse of powers. It is absurd that while our elected, and unelected, officials are quick to condemn attacks on press freedom in Turkey and elsewhere, some remain steadfastly determined to push through legislation on their doorstep that seeks to punish those who are innocent and fine them for telling the truth.”

“It has now been more than three years since Section 40 has been wielded over the newspaper industry like the sword of Damocles and it is time that parliament united in recognising the genuine threat that the legislation poses and takes steps to repeal it with immediate effect.”

Read John Whittingdale’s Lecture in full here


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