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01 March 2018

Hancock: Leveson Inquiry Officially Closed and Seeking Repeal of S40

The Government will formally close the Leveson Inquiry and will not commence Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, seeking its repeal at the earliest opportunity, after the public rejected both measures, Culture Secretary Matt Hancock, announced today.

After examining the 174,000 responses to the Consultation on the Leveson Inquiry and its implementation Mr Hancock said: “We do not believe that reopening this costly and time-consuming public inquiry is the right way forward.

“During the consultation, we also found serious concerns that Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 would exacerbate the problems the press face rather than solve them. Mr Speaker, we have decided not to commence Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 and to seek repeal at the earliest opportunity.”

Responding to the announcement, the News Media Association said: “We welcome the Government’s announcement today that the Leveson Inquiry will be formally closed and that it will seek to repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act at the earliest opportunity. The consultation response showed overwhelming public support for the work of newspapers and their importance to our democracy.

“Both these measures would have disrupted and destabilised the news media industry at a time when it is already grappling with the huge challenges of funding the provision of high quality journalism in the digital environment.

“It is now vital that similar, but potentially even more damaging, anti-press clauses in the Data Protection Bill are removed and we look forward to working with Government on its review into the press industry. We will find real, tangible solutions that create a sustainable future for journalism which the public expects and demands.”

Speaking in the House of Commons this morning, Mr Hancock said that responses to the consultation were overwhelmingly in favour of the repeal of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 and against the reopening of Leveson for part 2.

Only seven per cent of direct respondents were in favour of full commencement of Section 40 and 79 per cent in favour of full repeal. Twelve per cent of direct respondents were in favour of reopening the Leveson Inquiry, with 66 per cent against.

Highlighting the concerns around Section 40, Mr Hancock said: “Respondents were worried that it would impose further financial burdens, especially on the local press. One high profile figure put it very clearly. He said: ‘Newspapers…are already operating in a tough environment. These proposals will make it tougher and add to the risk of self-censorship.

"‘The threat of having to pay both sides’ costs - no matter what the challenge - would have the effect of leaving journalists questioning every report that named an individual or included the most innocuous data about them.

“He went on to say that Section 40 risks ‘damaging the future of a paper that you love’ and that the impact will be to ‘make it much more difficult for papers…to survive’. These are not my words Mr Speaker, but the words of Alastair Campbell talking about the chilling threat of Section 40. And if anyone knows about threats to the press it’s Alastair Campbell.”

Mr Hancock welcomed the significant changes made by publications and IPSO, the Independent Press Standards Organisation. He said: "IPSO has been established and now regulates 95 per cent of national newspapers by circulation. It has taken significant steps to demonstrate its independence as a regulator.

"And in 2016, Sir Joseph Pilling concluded that IPSO largely complied with Leveson’s recommendations. There have been further improvements since and I hope more to come. In November last year, IPSO introduced a new system of low-cost arbitration."

Mr Hancock focused on the challenging landscape the media industry faces and how different it was to the landscape of 2011 when the Leveson Inquiry was launched.

He said: “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.”

He continued: “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 democratic 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.”

These challenges, he added, would be addressed by the Government’s Internet Safety Strategy and the review into the sustainability of high quality journalism.

Concluding his statement, the Secretary of State stressed the unique and essential role of a free, independent and vibrant press to democracy: “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.”