The News Media Association (NMA) has warned that House of Lords changes to the Data Protection Bill are a “backdoor route” to “state-backed press regulation”.
Peers passed amendments to the bill yesterday backing cost provisions measures against news publishers for data protection breaches, unless they sign up to a regulator under the Royal Charter system.
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They also voted by a majority of 29 to push ahead with part two of the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the UK press.
Responding to the vote, the NMA said: “Legislation intended to make our data protection laws fit for the digital age is being used as a backdoor route by peers to enforce state-backed press regulation and obstruct investigative journalism, diminishing the public right to know.
“Hundreds of national and local news media editors and publishers across the UK are united in their fierce opposition to these cynical attempts to establish a costly and unnecessary, taxpayer-funded statutory public inquiry into the wider media industry and to introduce another punitive version of crippling Section 40 costs sanctions, enforcing state licensing of newspapers and inflicting huge damage on a free press.”
Part two of the Leveson Inquiry had been on hold while criminal proceedings against journalists were ongoing. None of the convictions secured at trial against journalists under Operation Elveden still stand.
Lord Leveson has intervened in a public consultation on whether to go ahead with the second part of the inquiry and impose Section 40 laws, further delaying the government’s response.
In a leader column published this morning, The Sun said: “Who in their right mind — after all that evidence, all the criminal probes and the establishment of the tough and effective new regulator IPSO — wants another judge-led investigation into the behaviour of a few journalists?
“Voters’ concerns won’t trouble the unelected, press-hating peers who put this farce back on the Government’s plate yesterday.
“This is not special pleading on The Sun’s behalf. It could have disastrous consequences for all of Britain’s free Press, which is already fighting for its life.”
Other senior media figures supported a tweet by new Culture Secretary Matt Hancock, which read: “House of Lords have just voted to restrict press freedoms.
“This vote will undermine high quality journalism, fail to resolve challenges the media face and is a hammer blow to local press. We support a free press and will seek to overturn these amendments in the Commons.”
City AM editor Christian May said: “Good to see the new Secretary of State pushing back against these troublesome peers.”
Senior editor of the Economist Anne McElvoy called the amendments “an onerous constraint on investigative journalism, at the time it is most needed to offset fake and skewed news”.
City editor of the Daily Mail, Alex Brummer, tweeted: “The attacks on press freedom are appalling. Part of a free society. Virgin Trains ban on Daily Mail another example.”
Senior politicians, including environment secretary Michael Gove and justice minister Liz Truss, have also put their weight behind the news media industry.
Speaking during the Lords debate on the amendments yesterday, the crossbench peer Lord Pannick said the measures would have a “chilling effect” on the industry.