Section 40 could stop investigative journalism, says Sunday Times

In-depth reports such as its investigation into Tour de France drugs cheat Lance Armstrong would never have been published if legislation proposed by the British Government had been in force at the time, according to The Sunday Times.

Untouchable? Lance Armstrong may have escaped newspaper investigations under law changes proposed. Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The Murdoch-owned title has joined opposition from other newspaper groups, including the Daily Mail, plus the London Press Club and even satirical magazine Private Eye, against Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act. A result of the review of the media by Lord Leveson, under Section 40, any publication which is not signed up to an approved press regulator would be responsible for paying both sides’ legal costs in libel actions, even when the publishers win the case.

If Section 40 is passed into law, many small, local and independent publications could be forced to close, or compelled to sign-up to Impress, the organisation funded by former Formula 1 chief Max Mosley and the only body recognised as a Leveson-compliant regulator.

Section 40 was passed by Parliament in 2012, but has never been enacted.

A consultation into Section 40 and the second part of the Leveson inquiry closes on January 10.

This weekend, The Sunday Times published a form for its readers to complete to express their opposition to the measures put forward under Section 40.

In 2004, Armstrong successfully sued The Sunday Times in 2004 after it linked him to the taking of banned drugs in an extract from a book by chief sports writer David Walsh. The newspaper was forced to pay him £300,000 in damages and more than £700,000 in costs.

But in 2013 it recovered that money after Armstrong admitted taking performance-enhancing drugs.

This week the paper said: “Had Section 40 been in force at the time, the burden of paying Armstrong’s libel costs whether or not we won the case would have stopped us from publishing the story in the first place.”

The Sunday Times, in common with most other national newspapers and many regional ones, has urged its readers to respond to the consultation by saying that both Section 40 and Leveson 2 should be scrapped.

According to Press Gazette, “Publishers are concerned that their voices on the consultation will be outweighed by the backers of campaign group Hacked Off which has encouraged its own mass response to the consultation and provided supporters with a templated letter.”