The Draft Media Bill will include the repeal of section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, a piece of legislation designed to protect newspapers from “SLAPPs” (attempts by wealthy litigants to chill investigative reporting by bringing meritless claims) and press freedom. It would do so by protecting newspapers from paying claimants’ costs in claims brought against them, where the claimant could instead have used low-cost arbitration.
The provision would have also provided the public with access to justice against larger newspaper groups, and incentivised press membership of an independent regulator.
Section 40 was legislated for on a cross-party basis in 2013, but the Government subsequently refused to bring it into effect.
Large newspaper groups have opposed the provision, because they would need to be independently regulated in order to benefit from it. They have refused to join such a regulator.
Commenting, Hacked Off CEO Nathan Sparkes said,
“The Government’s decision to repeal this provision, less than two years away from a General Election, will be seen for what it is: a gift to the national press, in the hope of receiving favourable coverage in return.
It is an attack on the public’s access to justice against the press, and an attempt to undermine the Leveson system of independent press regulation. It is further evidence, after the cancellation of Leveson Part Two, that this Government is under the thumb of press owners and too weak to stand up to them.”
On the impact on regulated publishers:
“Repeal of section 40 will be welcomed by the corrupt and the powerful, who would have feared the impact of the provision on their ability to intimidate smaller publishers with expensive legal actions.
Over 200 news outlets are independently regulated and would stand to benefit from costs protection under the provision, but are now set to be deprived of this crucial protection.”