Government ministers are to meet peers today in a bid to avoid a fresh vote on holding the second part of the Leveson inquiry, according to reports.
The move comes alongside a fresh bid by peers to push through amendments to the Data Protection Bill which could rob news organisations of some of their current exemptions from having to disclose information they hold – which would make it almost impossible for investigative journalists to do their jobs.
The government was due before Christmas to announce its decision on the future of press regulation and the second part of the Leveson inquiry, which would cover relationships between police and the press.
But the announcement was delayed after Sir Brian Leveson, who conducted the original inquiry, said he wanted to review submissions on the consultation from newspapers.
The government has also yet to respond on whether Section 40 provisions that would leave newspaper publishers not signed up to a Royal Charter-recognised regulator liable to pay all costs of anyone who sued them for defamation, privacy or harassment – win or lose – will go ahead.
Currently the vast majority of newspapers and magazines in the UK are signed up to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) which is not recognised under the Royal Charter system and has made clear it has no intention of seeking recognition.
The one recognised regulator, Impress, has signed up about 70 publications, most of which are hyperlocal news publishers.
The Daily Telegraph reported today that ministers hoped to be able to reach a deal with Labour and Liberal Democrat peers who were pushing for changes to data protection and for the second part of Leveson.
There had been suggestions that the government could offer a concession to head off a vote that it would be likely to lose in the House of Lords later this week, the newspaper said.
The Daily Mail said peers had tabled an amendment to the Data Protection Bill which would force the government to hold the second [part of the Leveson inquiry] – and added that “in a move described by a senior media figure as ‘completely cynical’, the peers’ amendment would remove police and politicians from the scope of any new inquiry”.
This, it said, would save the two groups from “more embarrassing revelations such as David Cameron riding a horse loaned by the Metropolitan Police to Rebekah Brooks, the former Sun and News of the World editor arrested during phone-hacking and bribery investigations”.
The newspaper reported that the amendment, tabled by crossbencher Baroness Hollins, Labour peers Lord Stevenson and Lord Lipsey, and Liberal Democrat Lord McNally, “would affect every media outlet, from national newspapers and broadcasters to community newspapers, charities and think-tanks” and added that blameless media companies could be drawn into the inquiry with unnecessary calls for evidence at huge expense – threatening the survival of many struggling titles.
It quoted Lord Grade, a former chairman of the BBC and ITV, as saying that he did not see any need for the second part of the Leveson inquiry.
It also quoted the News Media Association, which represents national, regional and local newspapers across the UK, as saying: “The statutory inquiry proposed is unnecessary, open to exploitation by those seeking to destabilise media investigations and publications, and could result in recommendations damaging to freedom of speech.”
The Sun pointed out that the Conservative election manifesto had pledged to scrap plans for the second part of Leveson as well Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act.