Press regulation plans set out in the Labour Party’s leaked manifesto are inconsistent with the principles of press freedom, the Society of Editors has warned.
The manifesto, leaked to a number of news organisations this week, reaffirms the party’s commitment to “implement the recommendations” made in part 1 of the Leveson Inquiry and to begin part 2 of the inquiry into relationships between the police and the media and corporate governance.
The recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry led to a cross-party agreement to pass into law Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act which contained provisions that would mean newspapers could be forced to pay their opponents’ legal costs in libel and privacy cases, even if they win, unless they sign up to a recognised regulator. Despite consulting on the legislation in 2016, no decision has yet been made on whether to commence the legislation.
Speaking after publication of the party’s plans, the Society called on Mr Corbyn to clarify the party’s position on Section 40 and highlighted the very real threat that the legislation poses to the national, local and regional press.
The Society said: “While the Society welcomes the Labour Party’s recognition of the vital role that the regional and local press plays in communities and the need for further discussion around the challenges they continue to face, we are disappointed that the party fails to recognise that one of the most important challenges facing local newspapers is the possible commencement of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act.
“As many regional and local editors made clear during the consultation on the issue, Section 40 would have a seriously chilling effect upon their work. The financial implications aside, they would be simply less inclined to pursue investigations in the public interest when the risk of crippling legal costs would be increased. The legislation is not only at odds with the principle that justice should be fair, it seeks to punish those same newspapers that the Labour Party claims to value and fine them for telling the truth.
“It is widely accepted that local and regional newspapers were not the focus of Leveson nor did they have anything to do with phone hacking. Lord Justice Leveson was also at pains to state that his recommendations should not provide an added burden to the regional and local press. Section 40 is fundamentally inconsistent with the principle of press freedom.
“Ahead of the General Election on 8 June, the Society would welcome clarification from Mr Corbyn, alongside all the main party leaders, as to their stance on Section 40 and eagerly awaits assurances that, if elected, their party will revoke this chilling legislation.”