On 1 March, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Matt Hancock announced in an oral statement to parliament that the government will be closing the Leveson Inquiry without undertaking part two, which was expected to examine the relationships between journalists and police. The government will also not implement Section 40, and will seek to repeal it at the “first appropriate opportunity”.
Both are measures that RSF has advocated, in particular the repeal of Section 40, which contains a cost-shifting provision that could have seen publishers that did not wish to sign up to state-approved regulator IMPRESS held liable for the costs of all legal claims made against them, regardless of merit.
Hancock’s statement was made in response to the government’s ‘Consultation on the Leveson Inquiry and its implementation’, which closed on 10 January 2017. RSF and English PEN published a joint submission to the consultation, as well as a joint letter to Theresa May calling for the government to respond to the consultation after a full year had passed with no developments.
The government reported receiving 174,730 responses to the consultation, along with a number of petitions. On the Leveson Inquiry, Hancock stated “We do not believe that reopening this costly and time-consuming public inquiry is the right way forward”, noting that 12 percent of consultation respondents were in favour of reopening the inquiry, and 66 percent against. Hancock also stated the government had found “serious concerns that Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 would exacerbate the problems the press face rather than solve them”, noting that only seven percent of respondents favoured full commencement of Section 40, with 79 percent favouring full repeal.
“We are pleased that the government has finally responded to this important consultation, and the fact that Section 40 will not be implemented is very welcome news. We call on the government to formally repeal Section 40 at the earliest opportunity, in the interest of protecting press freedom”, said RSF UK Bureau Director Rebecca Vincent.
The UK is ranked 40th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.