The Government has ditched the second part of the Leveson Inquiry, which was due to look into unlawful conduct within media organisations as well as relations between police and the press.
Culture Secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons that reopening the “costly and time-consuming” inquiry – which reported on press regulation and ethics in 2012 – was not “the right way forward”.
Mr Hancock also announced that the Government will not put into effect a controversial measure, which would have required media organisations to sign up to a state-backed regulator or risk having to pay legal costs in both sides of a libel case, even if they won.
Ministers will seek to repeal the measure, contained in Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act, “at the earliest opportunity”, he told MPs.
Labour shadow culture secretary Tom Watson described the decision not to go ahead with the second part of Leveson as “a bitter blow to the victims of press intrusion”.
Announcing the original inquiry in 2011 in response to a wave of public anger over alleged phone-hacking by the now-defunct News Of The World, then-prime minister David Cameron said that it would be divided into two parts.
The first would look at the culture, practices and ethics of the press, while the second – which could not begin until after all criminal investigations were concluded – would enquire into “unlawful or improper conduct” within media organisations and their relations with the police.
But Mr Hancock said there had been “significant progress” in the practices of the press and the police, including by the creation of the new Independent Press Complaints Standards Organisation, since Sir Brian Leveson’s report in 2012.
A large majority of those responding to a consultation launched by his predecessor John Whittingdale in 2016 opposed the implementation of Leveson II, he said.
Telling MPs he was formally closing the inquiry, he said that priority should be given to dealing with the challenges of the modern media landscape, such as the rise of clickbait, fake news and social media.
Ian Murray, executive director of the Society of Editors, welcomed the “common-sense approach” but warned that further challenges to press freedom remained in the shape of the House of Lords amendments to the Data Protection Bill.
He said: “The decision that a costly Leveson II inquiry will not now go ahead and today’s renewed pledge by the Government to lift the very real threat posed to the existence of some local and national newspapers by Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act is extremely welcome.
“It is important to remember that there still remain threats to a free press in this country in particular the amendments posed to the Data Protection Bill by the House of Lords.
“The amendments pose extreme financial threats to newspapers and, if granted, would curb genuine investigative journalism by all sections of the media.”
Prime Minister Theresa May has said the Government will seek to overturn the House of Lords votes for tighter regulation of the media.
The director of campaign group Hacked Off, Dr Evan Harris, said: “This is probably the first time that a Government has over-ruled the views of the judicial Chair of a statutory Inquiry by cancelling an inquiry against his will.
“If this was any other industry the press would demanding that inquiry must happen immediately, but when it is about them they applaud the cover-up of a cover up.”
And former Crimewatch presenter Jacqui Hames said the Conservatives had broken a promise by former prime minister David Cameron to finish the inquiry and she had “no confidence” in the Government.