English PEN calls for review of legislation underpinning press regulation

In a report published today, English PEN raises concerns about the creation of a new class of publisher, defined in the Crime and Courts Act 2013. Any publisher classified as ‘relevant’ for the purposes of the Act will risk facing financial penalties if they fail to join a regulator recognised under the Royal Charter.

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With the establishment of the Recognition Panel this week, the first recognised regulator could be up and running by the end of next year. ‘Relevant publishers’ who are not members of a recognised regulator may be liable for exemplary damages and costs under the new legislation.

English PEN is concerned that the lack of consultation and parliamentary debate surrounding the legislation and the Royal Charter has resulted in a contradictory and arbitrary series of definitions and exemptions that will create uncertainty and chill freedom of expression.

Categories of publisher that the government itself intended to be exempt will, according to English PEN’s analysis, be expected to join the regulator. This includes charities, not-for-profit community newspapers, political parties and specialist publications.

Lord Justice Leveson did not expect the new regulator to encompass all the media, although he believed that it should be open to small publishers to join. The failure to define the scope of the regulator clearly both during and after the Leveson Inquiry was a serious omission.

English PEN calls for an urgent review of the legislation. Key findings:

  • Publishers expected to be exempt from regulation appear to fall into the category of ‘relevant publisher’, including campaigning organisations, political parties and think tanks
  • Terms in the legislation are poorly defined, leading to uncertainty for publishers and the risk of a chill on free speech
  • Lack of clarity in the legislation will result in anomalies within categories of publication expected to be exempt from regulation, including blogs and specialist publications
  • English PEN’s analysis of a range of publications, according to the terms in the legislation, reveals widespread inconsistency across the media landscape regarding which publications are exempt and which qualify for regulation

Download the full report as a PDF [1.2 MB] or read it online.

 

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