Section 40 of the Crimes and Courts Act 2013 was written in response to the Leveson Inquiry, started in 2011 to investigate press and police behaviour in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal. Section 40 recommends that legal remedies should be more easily available to ordinary members of the public and those who might not have a team of experienced and costly lawyers to hand. Under section 40, publishers not signed up to a Government-backed regulator would be forced to pay the costs of both sides in a libel action.
Provisions, which would force the press to pay the costs in court cases even if they win, were included in the law but have yet to come into force. However, this is not the main issue of concern and cause of much debate. In order to avoid this clause a newspaper must sign up to an approved regulator under the Government’s Royal Charter for the Press. The irony is that the sole approved regulator is ‘Impress‘ which, supposedly “independent”, is heavily funded by Max Mosley and high-profile figures who have campaigned for press reform.Many UK news publishers object on principle to being part of a state-backed press regulation scheme.
To summarize, the consequences would be a danger to press freedom. Implementation of section 40 would give parliament the opportunity to restrict the freedom of the press. Injustices, in particular concerning people in positions of wealth and power, would not be exposed because the ensuing costs would lead to bankruptcy. It could also prove commercially disastrous for smaller local newspapers giving anyone who wants to silence journalists free rein.
However, there is no doubt that the British people want tougher press regulation. Section 40 would certainly curb media abuses and incite Journalists to publish more honest and truthful articles. In light of the huge increase in fake news there needs to be a renewed faith in the credibility of the popular press.
Section 40 would also give access to justice for people who could not otherwise afford it. This could lead to abuses but also to much needed compensation for those who have been unnecessarily harmed and unfairly treated at the hands of the press.
Personally, I do not believe section 40 will restrict investigative journalism in the UK. Maybe I am naive in my belief that the truth will out. However, I feel that it will elevate standards and improve the adherence to ethical codes. There is undoubtedly a need for a fair, effective and independent regulator. Neither ‘Impress’ or ‘Ipso’ fit this description. The Independent Press Standards Organisation has only succeeded in implementing cosmetic changes to malpractices within the industry. The introduction of section 40 can only be beneficial to all on the proviso of an impartial, independent regulator. Whether or not this is possible or ever likely to happen is another question for debate.
I have included the following quotation because I think it is important to consider.
We believe that a free press is a cornerstone of democracy. It should be fearless in exposing corruption, holding the powerful to account and championing the powerless. It has nothing to lose, and can only be enhanced, by acknowledging unethical practice in its midst and acting firmly to ensure it is not repeated.
I can see nobody objecting to these words. However, the following is debatable:
We also believe that editors and journalists will rise in public esteem when they accept a form of self-regulation that is independently audited on the lines recommended by Lord Justice Leveson and laid down in the Royal Charter of 30 October 2013.
(Cited from ‘The Leveson Royal Charter Declaration’, Hacked Off
http://hackinginquiry.org/declaration/ accessed 31/01/2017.)