The Society of Editors has welcomed the inclusion of “long overdue” provisions to repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 in the publication of today’s draft Media Bill.
The draft bill, unveiled on Wednesday 29 March 2023, primarily centres around plans by the government to help public service broadcasters better compete with streaming giants, however the bill also looks set to deliver on the government’s commitment to repeal Section 40 of the Courts Act 2013 which has long been vehemently opposed by news organisations and press freedom groups.
The Society has long campaigned for the repeal of Section 40 which, if enacted, would force newspapers not signed up to a Royal Charter-approved regulator to pay both sides’ legal costs in defamation and privacy cases regardless of whether they win or lose.
Responding to today’s announcement, Dawn Alford, Executive Director of the Society of Editors said: “The Society welcomes today’s announcement by the government of long overdue provisions to officially repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. For the best part of a decade, the threat of Section 40 has been wielded over publishers in a bid to force them to join a government-backed press regulator. Not only does Section 40 fundamentally go against the principle that justice must be fair, but it would also have a devastating impact on investigative journalism as well as impose crippling costs on publishers simply for telling the truth.”
Prior to today’s announcement, the government’s commitment to repealing Section 40 had been reiterated by former Culture Minister Michelle Donelan speaking at the Society’s Media Freedom Awards last year.
Other proposals contained within today’s Media Bill include plans to bring streaming giants such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+ under new Ofcom rules and ensure public service broadcasters’ on-demand services are easy to discover on Smart TVs and streaming sticks.
Plans also include reforms to guarantee access to UK radio on smart speakers and remove provisions barring Channel 4 from producing its own content.
Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said: “Technology has revolutionised the way people enjoy TV and Radio. The battle to attract and retain audiences has never been more fierce. British content and production is world-leading but changes to viewing habits have put traditional broadcasters under unprecedented pressure.
“These new laws will level the playing field with global streaming giants, ensuring they meet the same high standards we expect from public service broadcasters and that services like iPlayer and ITVX are easy to find however you watch TV.
“Our bill will give these brilliant broadcasters and our legendary radio industry the tools to keep doing what they do best – nurturing the creative talent and skills that fuel the UK’s booming production industry, whilst making outstanding shows that we can all enjoy.”