The British government on Thursday abandoned measures drawn up in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal to punish newspapers that refuse to join a government-approved press regulator.
Culture Secretary Matt Hancock told parliament that the government will seek to repeal legislation forcing news organizations that didn’t sign up to pay all the costs of libel and privacy suits against them, even if they won.
Hancock warned against laws that “would lead to a press that is fettered and not free”, and said that punishing media groups even if they won was “no way to organize a system of press regulation”.
The so-called Section 40 measure targeted news groups that refused to join new regulator IMPRESS, which was introduced after the 2011 phone-hacking scandal.
It was intended as an incentive to make sure newspapers signed up to the new system but has been condemned as a threat to press freedom -- and failed to achieve its purpose.
Only around 50 organizations are members of IMPRESS, while around 2,500 have joined the unofficial IPSO regulator.
Labour’s shadow culture secretary Tom Watson called it a “bitter blow to the victims of press intrusion”, saying that newspapers had been “lobbying hard” for the repeal.