The newspaper industry is stepping up efforts to avert a new law, which has been condemned as “insane” by the editor of the Sun.
What is going on?
Next week, a government consultation on whether to implement Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act will end.
If passed, the new rules would mean that publications not regulated by a government-approved organisation, Impress, would be liable to pay the legal costs of claimants in libel cases – even if they win the case.
The majority of the British press are opposed to joining Impress, instead choosing to be members of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso).
Why is Impress government-approved and Ipso not?
Impress, which is partly funded by Max Mosley, became an officially-recognised press regulator in October. It was able to secure this status because it meets the requirements set out by Lord Justice Leveson at the end of his inquiry into press ethics.
Ipso, which already regulates the majority of newspapers and magazines in the UK, has chosen not to apply for official status because it does not want to meet the Leveson requirements, which its members view as a step towards state regulation of the press.
This view by publishers also explains why so few have agreed to be regulated by Impress.
Only a small number of mostly hyperlocal publications have signed up to Impress. They include the Brixton Blog, Caerphilly Observer, On the Wight and the Lincolnite.
What the press say
Lloyd Embley, editor-in-chief of the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People:
A state-based regulator would be the end of the free press here. Our newspapers would be neutered. Our democracy undermined.
Rachel Jolley, editor of the Index on Censorship magazine (writing in the Telegraph):
This repressive legislation would pressurise newspapers to avoid the controversial and not publish things others would rather were not heard.
If such laws were introduced in another country, British politicians would be speaking out against such shocking media censorship. There’s no doubt that authoritarian powers will use this example to bolster their own cases in imposing media regulation.
Sun editor Tony Gallagher:
Essentially, it is an attempt to blackmail newspapers into joining the government’s regulator, a state-sponsored regulator. And no self-respecting newspapers worth its salt wants to be part of a state-sponsored regulator, because you’re then on the road to giving MPs power and the whip hand over the press.
What Impress supporters say
It makes it possible for an individual to sue, whereas at the moment they can’t. Access to justice is what it’s all about. And to have a situation which we have now – where less than one per cent of the population can afford to sue a newspaper – that’s completely wrong. So you need a different system, which is inexpensive and which anyone can take advantage of.
Hacked Off founder Brian Cathcart (speaking to Press Gazette):
Section 40 gives every citizen a right of access to affordable justice in libel and privacy cases, and a news publisher could only suffer an adverse costs award on winning a case if it had denied the claimant that right.
How could it be fair for a paper to force an ordinary reader into expensive court action when a far cheaper and quicker alternative was available?