The Metro has written what it claims is its first opinion piece in its 17-year history with a leader column opposing the section 40 cost penalty law, calling it “clearly nuts”.
The newspaper said today that it was breaking with its “tradition” of not writing opinion pieces because “we feel the future of this newspaper, and newspapers across the country, is at risk”.
The comment, on page two of the paper, directs readers to a full page further back calling on them to have their say as part of a government consultation on the issue, due to close on 10 January.
Metro.co.uk has also followed suit, calling section 40 “illiberal” and “illogical” and including a step-by-step guide for readers on how to respond to the consultation.
It comes as the media has ramped up its campaign against section 40.
On the weekend, the Sunday Times claimed it would not have run its investigation exposing drugs cheat cyclist Lance Armstrong had section 40 already been in place.
The law, part of the Crime and Courts Act, was passed by Parliament in 2012 but has yet to be enforced. Under its terms, any publisher not signed up to a state-approved press regulator would be liable to pay both sides’ court costs in a legal battle, even if they win.
The Metro, which has an ABC circulation of 1.4m copies, said Section 40 had the “potential to cripple not just the giants of the industry but every local newspaper doing its best to highlight wrongdoing”.
Metro.co.uk reaches 1.2m daily unique browsers, according to ABC.
Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn has also spoken out against the imposition of section 40.
In a column yesterday he wrote: “Section 40… has the potential to bankrupt newspapers who refuse to sign up to a State-controlled regulator. Under its provisions, papers who fail to register with an outfit called Impress will be liable to pay the legal costs of anyone who brings a libel action against them — win or lose.
“Not only is this an outrageous inversion of justice, it is an open invitation to malevolents, malcontents and assorted chancers to sue the Press at no risk to themselves. Have no doubt that an avalanche of vexatious and unwarranted lawsuits will be launched immediately the clause passes into law.”
He added: “Ultimately, Section 40 is an attack not just on the Press but on free speech itself, born out of contempt for the newspaper-reading public, whom most politicians consider too stupid to think for themselves.”