Government seeks views on press regulation issues
Government has published a consultation seeking views on two issues relating to the Leveson Inquiry.
This is to make sure the UK has a free and vibrant press but one which is held fully accountable when things go wrong, as set out in the manifesto.
Following events uncovered in the summer of 2011 when evidence emerged of phone-hacking being carried out by parts of the press, there have been major changes to the way newspapers conduct and regulate themselves in the UK. The relationship of the press with the public, police and politicians also has changed. The majority of the recommendations from the first part of the Leveson Inquiry - the inquiry set up in the wake of the phone-hacking - have now been implemented.
Government is therefore seeking views on the following two issues:
Implementation of section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 - whilst this measure, often referred to as “costs provisions”, has been enacted by Parliament, it has not been commenced. Once commenced in relevant media-related court cases e.g. libel, it would mean there is a presumption that newspapers which are members of a recognised self-regulator would be exempt from paying their opponents’ legal costs, even if they lost a court case, and a presumption that newspapers outside a recognised self-regulator would pay their own and their opponents’ legal costs, even if they won a court case. There are different views on whether to introduce this measure at this time.
Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry - the Leveson Inquiry was set up in 2011 by the Coalition Government as a statutory public Inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005. Part 1 of the Inquiry examined the culture, practices and ethics of the press and, in particular, the relationship of the press with the public, police and politicians. Part 2 was intended to examine wrongdoing in the press and the police, including the failure of the first police investigations, corporate governance issues and implications for police and press relations. Given it has been five years since the Inquiry was established and since the scope of Part 2 was set, this Government considers that a public consultation is needed before a decision is made on whether proceeding with Part 2 of the Inquiry is still appropriate, proportionate and in the public interest, and if so what it should cover and in what form.
Speaking in Parliament, the Culture Secretary Karen Bradley said:
The Government is determined that a balance is struck between press freedom and the freedom of the individual. Those who are treated improperly must have redress. Likewise politicians must not seek to muffle the press or prevent it doing legitimate work, such as holding us to account. And the police must take seriously its role in protecting not only its own reputation, but also those people it is meant to serve.
This is the balance that we wish to strike, and this consultation is the most appropriate and fairest way of doing so.
Changes have been made to the way the press regulates itself in the UK following the Leveson Inquiry:
Following a cross-party agreement, a new mechanism for supporting voluntary press self-regulation was enshrined in a Royal Charter. This established a new independent body, the Press Recognition Panel, for approving press self-regulators to become a ‘recognised regulator’ if they met specific criteria in areas such as independence, funding and appointments.
In response to the Leveson Inquiry report, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) was created in March 2014, replacing the Press Complaints Commission. The vast majority of the press industry are members of IPSO which has more than 2,500 members, including many of the major tabloids and broadsheets.
More recently, IMPRESS emerged as an alternative self-regulator to IPSO. Last month the body achieved formal recognition from the Press Recognition Panel having been judged as meeting all the criteria set out in the Royal Charter. IMPRESS has around 50 member publications. It is now the first, and only, recognised self-regulator under the new system.
In addition, the Government has been working to deliver other recommendations from the Leveson Inquiry. This includes:
Changes to the Ministerial Code in light of recommendations around the relationship between the press and politicians. As a result all Ministers, as well as Special Advisers and Permanent Secretaries, must now disclose meetings with the media. This information is published on a quarterly basis.
Through the Policing and Crime Bill, the Government is legislating to make sure that those working for the police have the confidence to come forward to report concerns of corruption, misconduct and malpractice. Changes are being made to legislation to strengthen protections for whistleblowers; this includes strengthening the independence of the existing IPCC reporting line by removing the requirement for the IPCC to pass the concern back to the force.
In the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Government will look at existing sanctions available in relation to the misuse of personal data to make sure they are fit for purpose in the digital age, to help make sure investigative journalism is carried out responsibly while ensuring genuine investigative journalism is not curtailed. In particular, we will review current penalties for data protection breaches and aim for sanctions that act as effective deterrents against the misuse of personal data in all contexts.
The Government is also taking action, through the Policing and Crime Bill, to make sure that all allegations about chief police officers will, in future, be investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. This will avoid the scenario where a chief of a police force investigates a chief of another police force.
The consultation seeks views on the way forward for section 40 and the different options:
Keep section 40 under review - to date the Government position has been to keep section 40 under review. Given the changes that the press industry has gone through over the last four years, it has not been considered appropriate to commence it. One option is to conclude that the time is not right now but to continue to keep commencement of section 40 actively under review.
Fully commence section 40 - the Government could make a commencement order to bring section 40 into force in its entirety. Some argue this will maximise incentives to join a recognised self-regulator and that newspapers that choose not to join in these circumstances are voluntarily laying themselves open to additional legal costs. Others argue that the potential financial impact on publishers outside a recognised regulator if section 40 is commenced would be significant and could put publishers, particularly small, local newspapers, out of business. As such Government is keen to understand the evidence around commencement for all those affected including individual publishers and the industry as a whole.
Repeal section 40 - this option would seek to repeal section 40 in the next appropriate legislative vehicle on the basis the incentive is no longer required. There are a range of views on the likely effectiveness of section 40 in encouraging membership of a recognised self-regulator. Given Parliament has legislated to create section 40, if there is no intention to commence it, or it is viewed as no longer of practical benefit, it should be repealed from the statute book.
Partially commence section 40 - a further option now that IMPRESS has been recognised by the Press Recognition Panel is for the Government to commence the sub-sections of section 40 that would give protections to members of a recognised self-regulator. This would mean publishers within a recognised self-regulator would be protected from the adverse costs arising from legal action brought by powerful claimants. Those outside a recognised self-regulator would not share those benefits. The elements of section 40 that apply to those outside a recognised regulator could either remain on the statute book and be kept under review or repealed.
Government is also seeking views on Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry, which was designed to look at wrongdoing in the press and the police. The terms of reference for Part 2 were drafted before Part 1 had started. Since then, three police investigations, Operations Elveden, Tuleta and Weeting (including Operation Golding) have investigated a wide range of offences at a total cost of more than £43m.
Given the extent of these criminal investigations, the implementation of the recommendations from Part 1 of the Leveson Inquiry, and the cost to the taxpayer of these investigations and Part 1 (£5.4m) the Government is considering whether undertaking Part 2 is still in the public interest. Some consider that the Leveson Inquiry has succeeded in what it set out to achieve and the media and police have made significant changes to their operations. Others however feel that further work through Part 2 is still required.
Therefore the options Government is consulting on in relation to this matter are:
Continue with the Inquiry, either on the original terms of reference oramended terms of reference: given it appears that many elements of the terms of reference have already been covered by the criminal investigations and Part 1 of the Inquiry, we are interested to hear views on whether continuing the inquiry based on the 2011 terms of reference is still proportionate and in the public interest.
Terminate the Inquiry: the police service in England and Wales has undergone significant reform since the Leveson Inquiry, particularly in its relationship with the media. Similarly, the press has undergone significant changes. For example the majority of the press are regulated by IPSO, a new self-regulator, and IMPRESS has recently been recognised by the Panel. The Government is keen to understand whether the reformed institutional structures in both the police and the press mean holding Part 2 of the Inquiry is no longer appropriate or in the public interest.
The Government’s consultation will last 10 weeks, closing on 10 January 2017. Further details are online on the Department’s consultation website.
Accredited media only – DCMS News and Communications team – 020 7211 2210 or out of hours on 07699 751153.