NUJ welcomes parliamentary recommendations on Section 40
23 February 2017
The NUJ has welcomed the culture, media and sport parliamentary select committee response to the government’s consultation on the implementation of section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, and the commencement of ‘Leveson 2’, published today, Thursday 23 February 2017.
Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:
"The parliamentary committee recommendations reflect the union’s view on Section 40. In response to the government’s consultation on whether Section 40 of the Crimes and Courts Act 2013 should be implemented, the NUJ expressed support for the intention to achieve a new system of fair arbitration to consider unresolved issues between publications and the public where individuals believe that the editor’s code has been breached. Implementing Section 40 would mean that arbitration of this kind would take the place of the first stage of a legal action against a publication. It makes it dramatically easier, and critically cheaper, for petitioners and respondents.
"If Section 40 were fully implemented now, it would potentially mean most newspapers and magazines in the UK would face paying both sides costs from legal actions, whether they won or lost. The potential impact to the quality, investigative, campaigning journalism we fight for every day is clear. At a time when parts of the industry is struggling – in many cases because of the failings of companies whose business model has moved ever further from protecting quality journalism – the risks that this poses are grave.
"Therefore the NUJ’s position, now supported by the parliamentary committee, has been to call for partial implementation of Section 40. In our view, publications who have signed up to a system which facilitates cheap and accessible arbitration can only be a good thing. The punitive elements of Section 40, however, must be held back. It is untenable for any newspaper or magazine to face bearing both sides’ costs when vexatious litigants initiate action.
"The union also believes the relationship between some newspapers and the police must also be investigated as part of Leveson 2. The commitments made to scores of victims, journalists among them, who have an understandable desire for the truth to be uncovered must be implemented. Journalists were scapegoated in the aftermath of hacking and we now know deals were done with the police to protect the companies responsible. At the time when another move is in play for the Murdochs to get their hands on BskyB, dodging a meaningful investigation into what really went on should be untenable for anyone who cares about journalism."
Damian Collins MP, chair of the parliamentary committee, said:
"It is over four years since Lord Leveson published his report into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. In that time we have yet to see established a system of independent self-regulation for print media that is credible both to the public and the press.
"If the vast majority of newspapers and magazines continue to refuse, on principle, to accept regulation under the terms of the Royal Charter, then the government should create an alternative path, that would allow IPSO to become established as the preferred body to take responsibility for the self-regulation of the press.
"However for this to be achieved, the committee believes that IPSO needs to make substantial progress in establishing a low cost arbitration scheme to consider complaints against the press, to increase the resources at its disposal to launch investigations, and to fund a campaign to inform the public about how and where to make complaints to IPSO.
"If IPSO can make the necessary reforms to become compliant with the spirt of the Leveson recommendations, then the government should repeal the provisions within Section 40 that relate to the awarding of costs in court cases taken up against the press.
"The Committee does not believe that Section 40 should be repealed at this stage, and instead asks that the government give the press one year to make their proposed regulator, IPSO, Leveson compliant.
"While views of members of the committee vary on full commencement of the Section 40 measures, which seek to reduce the financial risk of bringing a complaint against a paper, the committee has recommended the partial commencement of Section 40(2) now. This provides publications the carrot of legal protections for their investigative journalism if they sign up to an approved regulator, but without stick of the threat of costs being awarded against the press even when they win a court case against a complainant.
"With regards to Leveson 2, the committee recommends that the Government should now formulate revised terms of reference for this inquiry to avoid duplication with areas already covered by the police investigations and criminal trials completed since the publication of the Leveson Report in November 2012."
More details from the select committee - Government must now set "clear route and deadline" for press to become Leveson compliant