Monday, October 24, 2016

Press freedom: government "to examine more options"

Following my blog post yesterday urging the government not to implement Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 it appears that they are still considering the issue and are not falling into the trap of automatic activation of the measure as soon as they are asked to do so.

Ultimately I would like to see the idea of activating this section of the law abandoned, but I am pleased that the government is not making a Gadarene dash to implement it.

Culture Secretary Karen Bradley has insisted she will not be rushed into activating regulations which could see newspapers face "exemplary" damages if they are sued for libel unless they sign up to a state-backed system of press regulation.

The Press Recognition Panel (PRP) - which was established in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry into press standards - is due to rule on Tuesday whether to recognise Impress, a new regulator set up by Hacked Off campaigner Max Mosley.

If it does, Ms Bradley will have to consider whether to activate Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 which would mean that any newspaper that refused to sign up to the new regulator could have to pay the legal fees of a complainant who sued them for libel, even if the paper won the case.

The threat of that action has concerned many newspapers who have overwhelmingly rejected the idea of any form of state regulation, warning that it would be a threat to press freedom.

Appearing before the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Ms Bradley acknowledged that the majority of newspapers were not prepared to consider applying for recognition under the PRP, which was established by a royal charter.

While she said she had not ruled out activating Section 40 at some point in the future, she wanted to consider the options for achieving "appropriate levels of robust regulation... outside the PRP".

She told MPs that there were fears among local newspapers in particular that they could be forced out of business if the Government took an overly "ideological" approach to the issue.

"In 2013 when we debated and passed the Act it was a different situation. We expected and hoped that the press would join regulators that applied for recognition under the PRP. That simply has not happened," she said.

"I could do an ideological position on this but the implications of being ideological on this may be that we see a vibrant free local press being affected.

"It has been put to me very clearly by a number of editors of local newspapers that the exemplary damages section of Section 40 could see them being put out of business and certainly would impact on their ability to do investigative journalism.

"I want to consider those representations, consider them very carefully, and then make a determination. I am reserving judgment at this stage until I have had a chance to consider all the options."

No comments: