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In November 2012, Lord Justice Leveson, now Sir Brian Leveson, published his report on the “culture, practices and ethics of the press”. The report covered only Part 1 of his inquiry. The current system of press regulation is a response to this report.

Part 2 of the inquiry proposed to look at relationships between newspaper organisations and the police, politicians, prosecuting authorities, and relevant regulatory bodies during the “phone hacking” scandal of 2002-2011, as well as failures of corporate governance at newspaper groups. It has not started.

Press regulation – the current system

A Royal Charter on press regulation was granted on 30 October 2013. This incorporated key recommendations from the Leveson Report, allowing for one or more independent self-regulatory bodies for the press to be established. Any such body would be recognised and overseen by a Press Recognition Panel. Publishers who joined a recognised regulatory body might expect to receive more favourable treatment if action was taken against them in the courts. The Press Recognition Panel (PRP) came into being on 3 November 2014.

Two press regulators are now in existence. Most newspapers have signed up to IPSO, the Independent Press Standards Organisation, which has no intention of applying for recognition. A small number of publications have joined IMPRESS. This body is “Leveson-compliant” and was recognised by the PRP on 25 October 2016 as an “approved” regulator.

Other publications, for example the Guardian, have held back from joining any regulator and have appointed their own internal readers’ ombudsmen.

Two legislative changes arising from Leveson were designed to provide financial incentives to newspaper publishers to join a regulator recognised by the PRP:

  • section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 would make it easier for the public to challenge illegality by news publishers who chose not to subscribe to an approved regulator because it would mean publishers having to pay both sides’ legal costs, whether they won or lost a case. This section has not been brought into force.
  • sections 34 to 39 of the 2013 Act offer protection from the risk of “exemplary damages” in certain civil litigation claims to those “relevant publishers” that sign up to the Royal Charter framework and make exemplary damages available in those claims for the courts to award as a punitive measure against “relevant publishers” who have not signed up. These sections are in force.

Press regulation is a devolved area. The sections of the 2013 Act discussed in this paper only extend to England and Wales. The Royal Charter has been adopted in Scotland, but differences between the legal systems may lead to divergent outcomes.

Leveson 2, section 40, and the Data Protection Bill

In November 2016, the Government published a consultation on whether to proceed with part 2 of the Leveson inquiry and whether to commence section 40 of the 2013 Act.

In a statement on 1 March 2018, Matt Hancock, the then Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, announced that the Government was formally closing the Leveson inquiry. He also said that section 40 would not be commenced and would be repealed at the “earliest opportunity”.

Amendments to the Data Protection Bill [HL] 2017-19 tried, unsuccessfully, to:

  • establish a Leveson 2 type inquiry on data protection breaches committed by or on behalf of news publishers
  • incentivise media operators to sign up to an independent press regulator in respect of data protection claims – to be achieved in a similar way to section 40

As a result of Government amendments to the Bill, the Data Protection Act 2018 requires:

  • the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to publish a data protection and journalism code (section 124)
  • the ICO to produce guidance about how individuals can seek redress where a media organisation fails to comply with data protection legislation, including guidance about making complaints and bringing claims before a court (section 177)
  • the ICO to review the processing of personal data for the purposes of journalism (section 178)

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