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NUJ says press regulation must include affordable independent arbitration

10 January 2017

The notion that successfully defended cases, brought following journalist investigations and reporting, could still lead to a newspaper having to pay costs for the losing side is not tenable, the National Union of Journalists said in its submission to government's consultation on Section 40 of the of the Crime and Courts Act 2013.

The union also called for the second part of the Leveson inquiry, looking at the relationship between the press and police and failure to investigate wrongdoing at News International, to be initiated.

Responding to the call for opinions on the implementation of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act (2013), the UK’s largest organisation of journalists called on government to urgently clarify what would be the result of partial implementation of Section 40.

Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary, said:

 “A perfect storm poses a mortal threat to British journalism – a crisis of trust, a crisis of revenue and a crisis of relevance.  The first would be much aided by the establishment of a genuinely independent system of arbitration that would allow those who believe that the press has overstepped the mark to seek redress easily and inexpensively. Journalists, publishers and the public would benefit from the establishment of such a process.

“The NUJ believes that by partially implementing Section 40, it would potentially bring benefits to those regulators that have established proper systems of arbitration. Those who have not would continue to deal with the courts as they do today.  The government should continue to encourage those regulators that do not have effective arbitration in place to establish such systems.
"While providing significant benefits for those with systems of arbitration, ministers should now rule out implementing Section 40 in a way that could lead to publishers facing potentially ruinous legal costs. Therefore the NUJ favours option (d), that the government should partially commence Section 40 and keep under review those elements that apply to publishers outside a recognised regulator.

"It is also vital that Part 2 of the Leveson inquiry commences. Commitments were made to victims of abuse by the press that have not been fulfilled.  It was appropriate to allow live legal cases to extinguish themselves, but serious questions remain about the relationships between senior police officers and executives at some of our biggest media conglomerates.  Without the long-promised inquiry, the suspicion of a cover up, or a private deal between ministers and industry bosses, will hang in the air."

The full submission

The submission said:  "The NUJ has for decades argued that independent arbitration that enjoyed the confidence of both the public and journalists would significantly benefit journalism and the titles in which it appears. Against a backdrop of failing business models, fake news and public contempt for journalists, this has never been more true."

It called for a conscience clause for journalists, affording them contractual protection to safeguard them from being forced to act unethically by their employers and said: "This concept was accepted by Lord Leveson, yet to date has still not been adopted by newspapers and IPSO, the industry-led regulator."

The consultation response also looked at the merits of the Press Council of Ireland which comprises representatives of the industry, journalists and independent members representing civic society.

The union, which represents crime journalists and staff working in police press offices, said the public needs to have confidence in its police. The media plays a vital role as a watchdog and in holding the police to account so the public can have this confidence. This is only possible when there is an open and collaborative relationship between the police and the media. 

Tags: , press regulation, leveson, arbitration, Crime and Courts Act 2013, Leveson Part 2, police, Section 40, News International, News UK, conscience clause, ipso, impress, Press Council of Ireland