John Whittingdale has apparently not decided whether or not to issue a ‘commencement order’, which is a formality within the provision of the Crime and Courts Act.
The Act will allow judges to impose costs on newspapers who force plaintiffs to go through expensive court actions because they have not signed up to a recognized independent regulator providing a low cost arbitration service.
Many acts of parliament require commencement orders to bring them into force, just to give the bureaucracy a chance to prepare. Parliament passed the act, with cross-party support, and it did not intend for the Secretary of State to be given the authority to unilaterally repeal it.
Whittingdale apparently mutters something about how Parliament and Leveson had envisaged a situation where one or two newspapers were resisting joining a recognized regulator, rather than where all of the major newspapers have refused point blank.
Whatever Leveson intended, it surely wasn’t the situation we are in now.
Whittingdale not only has to decide the future of the BBC, but also has his finger hovering over a button that newspapers desperately do not want him to press.
The whole argument of those who opposed Leveson’s reforms, an argument that Leveson himself carefully tried to address and design his system around, was that they did not want the government to have the power to interfere in the freedom of the press.
And yet here Whittingdale is claiming that he is hesitating because he himself is worried about that very thing, while he knows that the press must be careful not to upset him in case he decides to push his button.
Meanwhile rumours abound that the papers have some lurid scandal up their sleeve and are holding him to ransom.
This story on Byline.com on the culture secretary, with allegations of a relationship with a dominatrix, has been widely shared on social media. If true, it raises questions about Whittingdale’s judgement and whether he is escaping media exposure because of his position on Leveson. (more…)