The 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.”