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Government closes Leveson Inquiry and pledges to repeal Section 40 laws as it says focus now on 'challenges' facing news industry

The Government has formally closed the Leveson Inquiry and will not commence Section 40 cost provision laws that would have forced newspapers to pay both sides’ legal costs, win or lose in court.

Culture Secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons today that the “terms of reference” for Leveson Two had “largely been met”.

He pointed to “extensive reforms to policing practices” and “significant changes to press self-regulation” with the establishment of the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

Hancock quoted a 2016 report by Sir Joseph Pilling that concluded IPSO had “largely complied with Leveson’s recommendations” and noted it recently launched a low-cost arbitration scheme, bringing it further in line.

He also referred to the recognition of alternative press regulator Impress under the Royal Charter and that newspapers had made improvements to their “internal controls, standards and compliance”.

Said Hancock: “So it is clear that we have seen significant progress, from publications, from the police and also from the newly formed regulator.”

He said the media landscape of today was “markedly different” from the one examined by Leveson in 2011 and that the press was now “under threat” from new forces that require “urgent attention”.

He said: “The way we consume news has changed dramatically. Newspaper circulation has fallen by around 30 per cent since the conclusion of the Leveson Inquiry.

“And although digital circulation is rising, publishers are finding it much harder to generate revenue online.”

He said that in 2015, for every £100 newspapers lost in print revenue newspapers gained only £3 in digital revenue.

Hancock said local papers in particular were under “severe pressure”.

More than 200 local titles have closed since 2005, according to Press Gazette research.

“As we devolve power further to local communities, they will become even more important,” the Tory MP said.

“There are also new challenges that were only in their infancy back in 2011.

“We have seen the dramatic and continued rise of social media, which is largely unregulated, and issues like clickbait, fake news, malicious disinformation and online abuse, which threaten high quality journalism.

“A foundation of any successful democracy is a sound basis for political 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.”

Hancock said the Government-led public inquiry into press regulation found two-thirds of direct respondents were against reopening the Leveson Inquiry versus 12 per cent who were in favour.

He said Leveson, who has been consulted about the decision, “agrees that the inquiry should not process on the current terms of reference” but that it should continue “in an amended form”.

But, he added: “We do not believe that reopening this costly and time-consuming public inquiry is the right way forward.

“Considering all of the factors that I have outlined to the House today, I have informed Sir Brian that we will be formally closing the inquiry.”

On Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act, which would force newspapers not signed up to a Royal Charter regulator to pay both sides’ legal fees in privacy and libel battles, win or lose, Hancock said commencing it would “exacerbate the problems the press face rather than solve them”.

He said 7 per cent of direct respondents to the public inquiry on press regulation favoured full commencement, versus 79 per cent who favoured full repeal.

The inquiry received some 174,000 respondents.

“We have decided not to commence Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 and to seek repeal at the earliest opportunity,” he said.

“We have carefully considered all of the evidence we received. We have consulted widely, with regulators, publications and victims of press intrusion.

“The world has changed since the Leveson Inquiry was established in 2011. Since then we have seen seismic changes to the media landscape.

“The work of the Leveson Inquiry, and the reforms since, have had a huge impact on public life.

“We thank Sir Brian Leveson for lending his dedication and expertise to the undertaking of this Inquiry.

“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.”

In his response, Labour deputy leader and Shadow Culture Secretary Tom Watson took the opportunity to address claims in the Daily Mail that former motor racing boss Max Mosley had published a “racist” pamphlet.

Watson has received donations worth £540,000 from Mosley, who supports reforms to the media backed by Labour. The party has since said it will no longer accept donations from Mosley.

Mosley told Press Gazette in a statement yesterday that he did not recognise the leaflet, adding: “It is not something I would have ever wished to be associated with. It is offensive and divisive.”

Watson told Parliament today: “If I thought for one moment he held those views contained in that leaflet 57 years ago I would not have given him the time of day.

“He is a man who in face of great family tragedy and overwhelming media intrusion chose to use his limited family resources to support the weak against the strong.”

On the closure of the Leveson Inquiry and call to repeal Section 40 laws, Watson said: “This announcement conveniently timed to be buried under a flurry of snow is a disappointment, a breach of trust and a bitter blow to the victims of press intrusion, but it is not in any way a surprise.

“We now know for certain what we have suspected all the time: When Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron joined the leaders of other parties to say that he would keep his promise to the victims of phone hacking, he and his party were not acting out of conviction but weakness.”

He said Conservatives who supported press victims “didn’t really mean it”. “They were waiting for the wind to change, waiting for the fuss to die down, waiting for a time when they could – as quietly as possible – break their promise and today that time has finally come.”

Watson said questions remained over the extent of illegality at News International (now News UK) and whether police suppressed proper investigation into complaints.

“None of these questions will be answered… and the Secretary of State is trying to ensure they never will be,” he said.

Hancock said Labour’s proposals to push ahead with Leveson Two and implement Section 40 cost provisions would “lead to a press that is fettered and not free”.

He said: “We do not love every story that’s written about us in the press, but the idea that the solution had been in shackling our free press with punitive costs over any complaint is completely wrong.”

Picture: Reuters/Dan Kitwood

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1 thought on “Government closes Leveson Inquiry and pledges to repeal Section 40 laws as it says focus now on 'challenges' facing news industry”

  1. Common sense prevails. Leveson was a scam perpetrated by David Cameron to save his job. That the left-wing has adopted it as a cause célèbre is quite hilarious. In fact, the whole scenario has been a mind-boggling farce of epic proportions, and the Tories have played an absolute blinder. Let’s take it from the top:

    A right-wing Prime Minister, David Cameron, was on the verge of losing his job. It had just emerged that he’d hired Andy Coulson, a right-wing newspaper editor, into a senior role in central Government, despite Alan Rusbridger, a left-wing newspaper editor, warning him in advance that Coulson had been complicit in criminal activity (namely, phone-hacking). It had also emerged that police had known about and possessed evidence of Coulson’s criminality for years but, much like the right-wing PM, had done nothing about it. Then it emerged that one of the victims of this criminal activity had been a murdered schoolgirl. Ouch. The right-wing were very much the bad guys in this scenario.

    Cameron, literally a cigarette paper away from having to resign in disgrace, gave an extremely public mea culpa, in which he confessed that the establishment (police, politicians) and the press had grown ‘too close’ to one another, including himself. He announced during that mea culpa a public inquiry, which he said would examine possible police and Government corruption. Central to this would be an examination of why police failed to properly investigate and deal with the criminal phone-hacking.

    The announcement seemed to appease the public so, with mission accomplished and Cameron’s job saved, Government began a slow and subtle process of shifting the narrative of the public inquiry away from police and Government corruption and towards press regulation – which had nothing whatsoever to do with the entire affair. Phone-hacking is not a regulation issue. It is a criminal offence and thus is already regulated by the legal system. The whole point of the inquiry was supposed to be to investigate why the legal system had covered the crimes up instead of investigating and prosecuting them.

    But certain people loved this new anti-press narrative for the inquiry and set about perpetuating it. For a start, left-wing politicians were all over it. Firstly, their own parties had been engaged in exactly the same sort of improper closeness with media moguls as the Tories, who had simply happened to be in power when all the revelations occurred – so shining a spotlight on corrupt relationships between politicians and the media was not something they were particularly keen on. Secondly, their party wasn’t in favour at the time, and turning the inquiry into a media witch hunt provided a great opportunity to cause butt-ache for the likes of Paul Dacre and Rupert Murdoch.

    Celebrities also loved this new narrative about how the media was out of control and needed to start behaving itself. They started funneling money into pressure groups campaigning for state regulation of the press and curious media companies seemingly set up for little reason other than to write articles calling for state regulation of the press.

    These wealthy campaigners dominated the inquiry when it eventually began – not least because it was expertly timed to coincide with the phone-hacking prosecutions, rendering it unable to properly investigate the very scandal it had been set up to examine. The inquiry ultimately descended into a ludicrous dog and pony show featuring a parade of household names queuing up to give sniffling evidence about how aggrieved they were by various completely legal activities the press had engaged in, like taking photographs in public streets.

    These entirely lawful – and necessarily lawful – activities were conflated with serious criminality and the press was demonised. By the time the inquiry concluded, the whole narrative had been transformed, by political machinations and celebrities’ spending, into one which centred on the apparent need to impose state censorship and regulation on the press.

    Meanwhile, the cops who covered up the phone-hacking, and the politicians who turned a blind eye to it, got away with everything.

    The recommendation which emerged from the inquiry amounted to state regulation of the press. It would be written into law that all newspapers had to sign up to a particular regulator, favoured by the state. Anybody who didn’t would be financially penalised. In particular, any newspaper who didn’t sign up to the regulator that the state told them to would be forced to pay all legal costs in any defamation or data protection lawsuit, even if the lawsuit was frivolous and the newspaper won.

    The national newspaper press barons whose poor behaviour had provoked the entire, years-long saga would be the only ones rich enough not to be affected by this outcome. Meanwhile, for many struggling local and regional newspapers, just one such frivolous lawsuit could result in job losses or even closure.

    And who was trumpeting this outrageous scenario as a victory? The left-wing, which is supposed to be on the side of innocent, hardworking citizens! They had become unwitting stooges in a Machiavellian, right-wing plot; a socialist party duped into fervently campaigning for a demonstrably fascist measure, which would inevitably result in redundancies and a lack of democratic scrutiny.

    So today, March 1, 2018, the right-wing swoops in and claims the moral victory by rescuing the innocent local press from this catastrophic fate, while the left-wing look like a gaggle of appalling would-be dictators who would gleefully massacre the country’s vital free press. And they still can’t even see it. They can’t even see how they’ve been played. Tragic.

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