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18 May 2017

Conservative Manifesto Pledges to Scrap Section 40 and Leveson Two

The Conservatives will repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act if the party wins the general election, according to its manifesto launched today.

If elected, a future Conservative government will also no longer go ahead with part two of the Leveson Inquiry, the manifesto said.

In a section entitled 'A Free Media', the manifesto states that “given the comprehensive nature of the first stage of the Leveson Inquiry and given the lengthy investigations by the police and Crown Prosecution Service into alleged wrongdoing, we will not proceed with the second stage of the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press.”

It adds: “We will repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2014, which, if enacted, would force media organisations to become members of a flawed regulatory system or risk having to pay the legal costs of both sides in libel and privacy cases, even if they win.”

The party also addressed concerns in the sector that online platforms are benefitting disproportionately from the press content they distribute and are starving news media companies of the revenues needed to fund quality journalism.

The party pledged to “ensure content creators are appropriately rewarded for the content they make available online” noting the “need to take steps to protect the reliability and objectivity of information that is essential to our democracy and a free and independent press.”

Responding to the manifesto, News Media Association deputy chief executive Lynne Anderson said: “The NMA and the national, regional, and local press welcomes the Conservative Party’s commitment today to repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act and not to proceed with Leveson 2.

“This damaging legislation would seriously impact on freedom of speech and the ability of the free press to do its job of holding power to account. The industry was united in voicing its opposition to the proposals in a campaign led by the NMA.  

“Our members also welcome the commitment to look at the digital ecosphere and ensure that the content creators, such as news media publishers who invest in journalism, are appropriately rewarded for their investment.”  

The week has also seen manifesto launches by the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats.

The Labour manifesto pledged to maintain the zero rate on VAT for newspapers and said it recognised “the serious concern about the ‘value gap’ between producers of creative content and the digital services that profit from its use.”

The party also said it would work with all sides to review the way that innovators and artists are rewarded for their work in the digital age.”

However, the party reiterated its support for implementing the recommendations of the Leveson report and for commencing part two of the Leveson inquiry.

Labour also committed itself to carrying out a “national review of local media”, citing concern about closures of local media outlets and reductions in number of local journalists. It also pledged to undertake a review of national media ownership, with more powers for Ofcom.

The Liberal Democrats similarly expressed support for implementing Leveson parts one and two and to reviewing media ownership, but the party said the review would also explore whether “the communications regulator, and the Competition and Markets Authority, have appropriate powers to deal with concentrations of power in the digital economy.”