MPs have said UK newspapers should be given a year to make their regulator IPSO fully compliant with the Leveson report or face punitive damages under Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act.
The unanimous recommendation from the influential cross party Culture, Media and Sport Committee comes as the Government mulls whether to enact Section 40, which was passed by Parliament three years ago and remained on ice ever since. It states that publishers who are not part of a Royal Charter-backed press regulator must pay both sides in libel and privacy cases even if they lose them.
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The committee has condemned the fact that, four years after publication of the Leveson report, “there is yet to be a fully functional system of self regulation off the press, which is credible to both news publishers and the wider public”.
They said that the regulator set up by the newspaper industry after Leveson, IPSO has a “fundamental flaw” because it has refused to set up a low-cost arbitration scheme for legal complaints.
A pilot arbitration scheme set up by IPSO is optional for publishers and comparitively expensive for claimants. So far nobody has taken it up.
The MPs have also condemned publishers for their “unconvincing and misleading” campaign against Section 40 being commenced. They said that joining an officially recognised regulator, such as a Impress, would provide “robust legal protections” for journalists to conduct “serious investigations”.
They said that Section 40 should be partially commenced now, meaning that members of Royal Charter-backed regulator Impress would immediately be protected from paying legal costs in privacy and libel cases which they lose.
And they suggests the industry should be given one year to comply with the Leveson report recommendations as set out in the Royal Charter on the regulation of the press.
Given the strong opposition the newsaper industry has towards the Royal Charter, which has been described as akin to state regulation of the press, the MPs have set out a compromise. They state that if press were able bring IPSO “in into line with recommendations in the Leveson report” particularly with regard to low cost arbitration, then Section 40 could be repealed.
The MPs recommended that IPSO act on the recommendation of its own external review, by Sir Josoph Pilling, that press complainants should be able to appeal against complaints decisions.
The MPs also believe that part two of the Leveson Inquiry, into phone-hacking the police and the press, should go ahead with revised terms of reference.
Chair of the committee Damian Collins MP (Con) said: “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.”