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Government will repeal Section 40, Culture Secretary confirms

Matt HancockThe government has confirmed it will not go ahead with legislation described as a potential “hammer blow to local press”.

Culture Secretary Matt Hancock, left, has announced he will “seek repeal at the earliest opportunity” for Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013.

The legislation, designed to force publishers to sign up to a ‘recognised’ system of press regulation, would have seen media organisations having to pay the legal costs of both sides in libel and privacy cases, regardless of whether they win, unless they signed up to an approved press regulator under the government’s Royal Charter.

In a statement to the House of Commons this morning on the response to a consultation on the Leveson Inquiry, Mr Hancock said “serious concerns” were raised that Section 40 “would exacerbate the problems the press face rather than solve them”.

Only 7pc of the 174,000 respondents to the consultation favoured full commencement of Section 40, while 79pc favoured full repeal.

Mr Hancock told the House: “Respondents were worried that it would impose further financial burdens, especially on the local press.”

He also confirmed the second part of the Leveson Inquiry would not go ahead.

Mr Hancock added: “Our local papers, in particular, are under severe pressure. Local papers help to bring together local voices and shine a light on important local issues – in communities, in courtrooms, in council chambers. And as we devolve power further to local communities, they will become even more important.

“And yet, over 200 local newspapers have closed since 2015, including two in my own constituency. 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.”

The Society of Editors, which has campaigned strongly against the implementation of Section 40 and Leveson Part 2, welcomed the decision.

Executive director Ian Murray said: “The Society of Editors sees this as a common-sense approach to the issue of how the media is regulated here in the UK.

“It is heartening to note the strong support the Secretary of State gives for a vibrant and robust, but most of all independent, media here in the UK and the important role that this plays in our nation’s democracy.

“Of course the debate will continue into all aspects of the media and this is only right and proper that it should. However, the decision that a costly Leveson 2 inquiry will not now go ahead and today’s renewed pledge by the government to lift the very real threat posed to the existence of some local and national newspapers by Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act is extremely welcome.”

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  • March 1, 2018 at 3:44 pm
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    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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  • March 2, 2018 at 12:17 pm
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    The government once again proves it’s on the side of the non-dom press barons and the Society of Editors once again proves it’s on the side of the proprietors rather than the staff. No change there. But this cop-out will fool few people; if the small minority of national papers continue to abuse their position and give the rest of us a bad name, pressure for further regulation will arise again.

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