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Government Set to Eliminate ‘Threat to Freedom of the Press’ by Removing Regulator Clause

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The government has decided to drop a controversial law that would have required UK publishers to cover legal costs for individuals who sued them, even if the publishers won the case.

Named Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, the law was designed in response to the Leveson Inquiry but was never enforced by the government. It mandated that any news outlet not part of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) could be held liable for the legal costs of lawsuits related to libel, copyright, or invasion of privacy, regardless of the court outcome.

Celebrities like Hugh Grant and Gary Lineker supported this clause, while all national newspapers in Britain, including The Guardian, opposed it. They argued that it would hinder investigative journalism, such as The Guardian’s coverage of the phone-hacking scandal that prompted the Leveson Inquiry.

Culture minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay announced during the Media Bill’s second reading that repealing Section 40 would protect press freedom by eliminating a threat to it.

According to Conservative peer Lord Black of Brentwood, the law was reprehensible and one of the most disgraceful legislations in modern UK history. He emphasized that it would have severely restricted press freedom and stifled investigative journalism.

Lord Black insisted that the repeal of Section 40 was crucial to uphold liberty in the country and restore the reputation of press freedom in the UK. He commended the government for taking action to remove this harmful legislation.

On the other hand, Labour peer Lord Lipsey criticized the government’s timing of the repeal, suggesting that it was an attempt to win over the press in an election year. He expressed skepticism about the claim that improvements in press standards obviated the need for Section 40.

IPSO’s founding chairman, Tory peer Lord Hunt of Wirral, defended the organization against its critics, stating that progress should be judged by improved behavior rather than the number of complaints upheld. He argued that Section 40, if activated, would have had little impact on press freedom and could have led to unintended consequences.

The Leveson Inquiry, initiated in 2011 following revelations of phone hacking by the News of the World tabloid, aimed to investigate press culture, practices, and ethics, and issued various recommendations.

PA Media contributed to this report.

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