The National Union of Journalists has welcomed proposals from MPs to force news publishers to offer low-cost arbitration to libel and privacy claimants.
MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport select committee said the journalism industry should be given a year to beef up its system of press regulation – to at least make it comply with the “spirit of Leveson” – or else the government should enact Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act.
- March 1, 2017
- February 23, 2017
- January 17, 2017
This would make publishers who don’t join a Royal Charter-backed press regulator pay both sides’ costs in libel cases that they win.
The compromise offered by MPs yesterday said that Section 40 could be repealed if publishers beef up their regulator IPSO and launch a low-cost arbitration scheme. This stops short of requiring publishers to sign up for official recognition under Parliament-backed Royal Charter.
NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet (pictured) said: The parliamentary committee recommendations reflect the union’s view on Section 40.
“In response to the government’s consultation on whether Section 40 of the Crimes and Courts Act 2013 should be implemented, the NUJ expressed support for the intention to achieve a new system of fair arbitration to consider unresolved issues between publications and the public where individuals believe that the editor’s code has been breached.
“Implementing Section 40 would mean that arbitration of this kind would take the place of the first stage of a legal action against a publication. It makes it dramatically easier, and critically cheaper, for petitioners and respondents.
“If Section 40 were fully implemented now, it would potentially mean most newspapers and magazines in the UK would face paying both sides costs from legal actions, whether they won or lost.
“The potential impact to the quality, investigative, campaigning journalism we fight for every day is clear. At a time when parts of the industry is struggling – in many cases because of the failings of companies whose business model has moved ever further from protecting quality journalism – the risks that this poses are grave.
“Therefore the NUJ’s position, now supported by the parliamentary committee, has been to call for partial implementation of Section 40. In our view, publications who have signed up to a system which facilitates cheap and accessible arbitration can only be a good thing. The punitive elements of Section 40, however, must be held back. It is untenable for any newspaper or magazine to face bearing both sides’ costs when vexatious litigants initiate action.
“The union also believes the relationship between some newspapers and the police must also be investigated as part of Leveson 2. The commitments made to scores of victims, journalists among them, who have an understandable desire for the truth to be uncovered must be implemented.
“Journalists were scapegoated in the aftermath of hacking and we now know deals were done with the police to protect the companies responsible. At the time when another move is in play for the Murdochs to get their hands on BskyB, dodging a meaningful investigation into what really went on should be untenable for anyone who cares about journalism.”
Damian Collins MP, chair of the parliamentary committee, 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 spirit 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.
“The Committee does not believe that Section 40 should be repealed at this stage, and instead asks that the government give the press one year to make their proposed regulator, IPSO, Leveson compliant.”