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DCMS Select Committee calls for compromise on Section 40

23 February 2017


A government select committee has recommended an interim compromise on Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act and said that the press should be given more time to comply with the recommendations outlined in the Leveson Report. 

In its published response to the government consultation on the 'Leveson Report and its implementation' the Select Committee for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said that the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) should be given one year to enact changes that would make it more Leveson-compliant. 

The committee called on IPSO  to make substantial progress in establishing a low cost arbitration scheme to consider complaints against the press, to increase the resources at its disposal to launch investigations, and to fund a campaign to inform the public about how and where to make complaints to IPSO.

Damian Collins MP, chair of the committee said: "It is over four years since Lord Leveson published his report into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. In that time we have yet to see established a system of independent self-regulation for print media that is credible both to the public and the press.

If the vast majority of newspapers and magazines continue to refuse, on principle, to accept regulation under the terms of the Royal Charter, then the government should create an alternative path, that would allow IPSO to become established as the preferred body to take responsibility for the self-regulation of the press.

He added: "If IPSO can make the necessary reforms to become compliant with the spirit of the Leveson recommendations, then the government should repeal the provisions within Section 40 that relate to the awarding of costs in court cases taken up against the press."

The Society of Editors responded to the publication of the report stating its ongoing opposition to the commencement of Section 40 and pointed to IPSO's published response to recommendations made to the regulator by an independent review by Sir Joseph Pilling. 

It said: 'The Society remains opposed to the commencement of Section 40 and, alongside other media organisations and members of the public, recognise that the legislation would have a chilling effect on both national and regional and local newspapers.

'Any objective consideration of the efforts of the newspaper industry to respond positively to Leveson could only conclude that the spirit of his recommendations have largely already been met. Since the consultation closed, the Independent Press Standards Organisation has  responded to Sir Joseph Pilling’s external review into its independence and effectiveness, agreeing with the majority of his recommendations and setting out how it will address these where necessary.'

The DCMS committee recommended that Section 40 should be partially commenced now, meaning that members of Royal Charter-backed regulator Impress would immediately be protected from paying legal costs in privacy and libel cases which they lose. With regards to Leveson 2, the committee recommends that the Government should now formulate revised terms of reference for this inquiry to avoid duplication with areas already covered by the police investigations and criminal trials completed since the publication of the Leveson Report in November 2012.

The Society of Editors, alongside other media organisation and members of the public, has stated its opposition to the commencement of Section 40. The measures, if enacted, could see newspapers forced to pay both sides costs in privacy and defamation actions regardless or not of whether they successfully defend a case in court. The government is currently considering whether or not to commence the legislation. 

Read the recommendations by the DCMS Select Committee in full here

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