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Newcastle’s Labour MP, Paul Farrelly, has accused the government of breaking promises to Parliament and victims of press abuse to implement key Leveson reforms of press regulation.
Culture Secretary John Whittingdale’s failure to commence Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act - which incentivises newspaper regulators to seek recognition under the press Royal Charter following Lord Justice Leveson’s enquiry - also contravenes pledges made by David Cameron to implement fundamental reforms, Mr Farrelly told the House of Commons.
Mr Farrelly, a member of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, hosted a session attended by campaign group Hacked Off and victims of press abuse in Parliament this week.
And yesterday, he took Mr Whittingdale to task directly at the Department’s monthly questions in the House over the government’s record:
‘These incentives were promised as a key part of the Leveson reforms specifically by the Prime Minister, not only to Parliament but to the victims of press abuse, including the family of Madeleine McCann,’ he said.
‘So, in signalling already that he has no intention of taking that step, has the Secretary of State reflected very much at all that he is not only thwarting the will of Parliament, and breaching a cross-party agreement, but is also breaking clear, firm and unequivocal promises made by the Prime Minister and his colleagues?’.
Newspaper groups are opposed to Section 40, which means they would be liable for costs in libel and privacy cases, even if they won a case, if they were not signed up to a voluntary regulator recognised under the Royal Charter which provided a cheap scheme of redress.
It also, however, provides equal protection for newspapers who are signed up, if claimants themselves do not go through an inexpensive complaints procedure. This helps legitimate investigative journalism, which is all too often ‘chilled’ by the threat of huge court costs from deep-pocketed claimants.
Last autumn, in a speech to newspaper editors, Mr Whittingdale shocked press abuse victims by saying he was not ‘not minded’ to implement this key part of Leveson’s reforms.
And yesterday, to amusement in the Commons, he reiterated that he had moved no further forward: ‘I have not indicated that I have no intention. I have simply said that I was ‘not minded’, which means that the matter is still under consideration,’ the Culture Secretary said.
Campaigners are concerned that the newspapers’ new regulator, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), is insufficiently arms-length from the industry and that it has no intention of seeking recognition under the Royal Charter.
They are also pushing for the second part of the Leveson inquiry, covering the relationship between the press, the police and other public servants, following the end of several trials over newspapers paying for information. No announcement over this has yet been made, despite an open letter from victims to Mr Cameron over Easter, reminding the Prime Minister of the promises he made when the Royal Charter was debated in 2013 and since.