Johnston Press editor hits back at 'smokescreen' claim as Lords back press regulation financial penalties

garyshipton

A local newspaper editor has hit back at claims from the House of Lords that opposition to Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act is a “smokescreen”.

The Lords yesterday inflicted a second defeat on the Government over a version of section 40 which has been added to the Investigatory Powers Bill. This would mean that newspapers which are not part of a Royal Charter-backed press regulator would face paying both sides’ costs in phone-hacking legal claims, even if the claims prove to be bogus.

Backing the amendment, Lady Hollins said: “The local newspaper threat is a smokescreen. The protests are really coming from the big newspaper groups who own most of the regional papers and are effectively using them as newsprint shields.”

But Johnston Press Sussex Newspapers editor-in-chief Gary Shipton warned that local press opposition to legal case cost penalties was “anything but a smokescreen”.

In a letter to her he said: “In his determination of the phone-hacking inquiry, Lord Justice Leveson made clear that local newspapers were guilty of no wrongdoing and should not be penalised as a result of his report.

“Yet we face huge financial hardship if the proposed cost sanctions outlined in the Crime and Courts Act 2013 proceed – and similar hardship if we are forced to join a recognised regulator.

“The reasons for the former are clear; for the latter may be less so. Regulation under Royal Charter requires newspapers to participate in compensatory arbitration.

“In the only approved scheme from Impress this would require us to pay all the costs of an arbitrated complaint, up to £3,500, plus potentially the successful complainant’s costs of up to £3,000, in addition to unspecified damages.

“Tor tiny papers who have seen readers and classified advertisements migrate to entirely unregulated websites and social media, these are enormous sums. It is rare for our titles to incur any legal fees during the course of a year – we have always set the highest standards and when we make a mistake are quick to correct or apologise.

“IPSO, our independent regulator of choice, is piloting an independent arbitration scheme without the requirement for the local press to join as it knows we have no need of it and could not afford it.

“I have been a local newspaper journalist for 35 years and an editor for 25 of those. I am proud of the service we provide to our communities despite the tiny resources with which we now operate.

“In the debate you acknowledged that small newspapers ‘don’t hack phones’. Nor do large ones.

“Please do not allow newspapers, a vital component of every local community, to be further eroded because of a scandal which engulfed the News of the World – a title a world away from ourselves.”

He said his views are shared with Johnston Press editor-in-chief Jeremy Clifford, who represents 250 titles across the UK.

The Investgatory Powers Bill, which also codifies widespread powers for the state to view the electronic communications of members of the public (including journalists), will now return to the Commons for final approval.

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