Local Editors Call on Government Not to Bring Leveson Costs Sanctions Into Force

Local press editors have described the Leveson costs sanctions – which could see local papers financially penalised for telling the truth – as a perverse attack on local journalism and called on the Government not to bring them into force.

Culture Secretary Karen Bradley is currently considering whether or not to bring in the provisions under Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. If they were brought in, it would mean that, despite winning a libel or privacy action in court, publishers could be forced to pay the costs of an unsuccessful claimant.

Editors from daily and weekly local and regional newspapers across the industry have today called on the Government not bring in the costs sanctions, saying that they would chill local journalism and wreak irreparable damage on the industry. 

Baylis Media editorial director Martin Trepte, editor of Prime Minister Theresa May’s local newspaper the Maidenhead Advertiser, said:   “The effects of the costs sanctions triggered by the recognition of Impress and the bringing into force of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 by the Government would be particularly chilling for small independent publishers like ourselves.

“It’s plain it could represent the final nail in the coffin for local papers championing local democracy by holding those in authority to account.

“I’m appalled the regional press, exonerated by Leveson, faces being the victim of flawed and heavy-handed legislation based on misguided ideas from politicians who should be defending grassroots democracy rather than the architects of its destruction.”

Terry Hunt, editor of the East Anglian Daily Times which covers DCMS Minister Matt Hancock’s West Suffolk constituency, said: “We pride ourselves on our ability to speak the truth on behalf of our readers. To be penalised for reporting the truth by being forced to pay the costs of an unsuccessful claimant seems completely perverse and a direct attack on local democracy.

“The Government must not bring forward these costs sanctions, as they will seriously undermine local newspapers’ ability to report on important issues and weaken local democracy as a result. 

Denise Eaton, Kent Messenger editor, said: “The idea that the press could be penalised for being accurate is both astounding and absurd. I’m surprised it is even being considered it’s so flawed and fraught with implications which could cause irreparable damage to a free press.”

Neil Benson, editorial director regionals, Trinity Mirror, said: “The impact of these costs provisions would be felt by each and every one of our regional and local newspapers and the business as a whole. It would fundamentally change the way our editors approach publication because they would have to consider the possibility of being financially penalised even if a judge had ruled that every word of their story was true.

“Enacting these cost provisions would represent an attack on local journalism and fundamentally undermine democracy at a local level. The Government must not do this. Instead, Ministers should be looking at ways to support a vibrant local news sector which challenges authority and holds the powerful to account.”

Gary Shipton, editor in chief, Sussex; deputy chairman, Johnston Press editorial board: “As an industry, local press now faces the most pernicious threat to our ability to report without fear or favour. If they were brought into force, these costs provisions could severely compromise our ability to defend actions even when we were clearly acting in the public interest.

“In his report, Lord Justice Leveson praised the local press and highlighted the important role local newspapers play in society. He stressed that nothing should be done as a consequence of his report to place an added burden on the sector at a time when the industry is already operating under significant pressures.

“The costs provisions in Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 represent much more than an added burden – they are a very significant and real threat to the industry – and we are calling on the Government not to bring them into force.”