May Government slammed for nixing Leveson inquiry 2

Vidya Ram London | Updated on March 01, 2018

The inquiry, set up by former PM David Cameron after the phone-hacking scandal, was to examine media-police nexus

The British government has been slammed for “capitulating” to “powerful allies” in the media, after abandoning plans for a second public inquiry into the media and its relationship with the police, as well as planning to scrap legislation that required media organisations to pay the cost of libel cases.

While the 2011 Leveson inquiry was a “diligent and thorough examination of the culture, practices and ethics of our press in response to illegal and improper press intrusion,” the government did not believe “reopening this costly and time-consuming public inquiry is the right way forward,” Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, told the House of Commons on Thursday morning.

The initial investigation had been comprehensive and had largely met the terms of reference for a second part to the inquiry, while “extensive reforms” to policing practices and press self-regulation had taken place since, he said.

Former Prime Minister David Cameron had committed the government to a second inquiry into press practices following the initial Leveson report, which had among other things recommended a new watchdog and a libel resolution system, the logic being that the first inquiry could only achieve so much before criminal cases had taken place.

“The second part of the inquiry will examine the extent of unlawful or improper conduct at the News of the World and other newspapers, and the way in which management failures may have allowed it to happen. That part of the inquiry will also look into the original police investigation and the issue of corrupt payments to police officers, and will consider the implications for the relationships between newspapers and the police,” Cameron told the House of Commons back in 2011.

Cost of legal claims

In addition to ruling out a second phase, Hancock said the government will be seeking to repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which requires a media house to bear the costs of a legal claim against it, whatever the outcome.

This latter aspect has been particularly controversial. Wwhile intended to make it possible for those without access to major funding to challenge libellous actions by newspapers, sections of the press warned it would harm their independence.

Campaign group Index on Censorship warned it was a “gift to the corrupt and conniving to silence investigative journalists, particularly media outfits that don’t have very deep pockets.”

““The decision to repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act is a hugely significant victory for press self-regulation,” said Matt Tee, Chief Executive of the Independent Press Standards Organisation, which regulates the newspaper and magazine industry in the UK.

‘Huge disappointment’

However, the moves were condemned by politicians, as well as those who had been part of the initial drive to toughen up regulation, following the hacking scandal. The drive was triggered after details came out on the extent that newspapers went to in order to glean details of celebrities and ordinary members of the public, including through the illegal hacking of phones.

“Section 40 was designed to give protection to journalists and newspapers who signed up to an independent regulator while enabling the public to seek redress cheaply and quickly,” said Labour Party’s Tom Watson, accusing the government of capitulating to pressure on the issue, as well as the wider inquiry. “This announcement is a huge disappointment, a breach of trust and a bitter blow to the victims of press intrusion.”

“(Paul Michael) Dacre (Editor of the Daily Mail) and Murdoch wiggle their fingers and their puppet Prime Minister dances. A depressing and shameful spectacle,” said actor Hugh Grant, who has long campaigned against media intrusion, following his own experiences, and contributed to the Leveson inquiry.

Published on March 01, 2018

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