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Council Newspapers and Online-only Bloggers Exempt from Government Royal Charter

Taxpayer-funded council newspapers such as East End Life and Greenwich Time which compete for readers and ad revenues with independent local papers would be exempt from the Royal Charter proposals for press regulation in addition to online only bloggers and news aggregators.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport announced a series of measures this week aimed at excluding what it calls “‘micro-business’ blogs” from being classed as “relevant publishers” and falling under the Crime and Courts Bill’s statutory ‘incentives’ and sanctions for the Government’s Royal Charter press regulation scheme.

However, micro businesses could still opt to join an approved regulator. The DCMS has also published guides on the application of the proposed system and which publishers it wanted to regulate or exempt.

But if bloggers started to print and distribute their blogs, they would cease to be exempt from the scheme and be exposed to the heavy financial penalties for publishers outside of it.

The amendments attempt to define small blogs by classing them as “‘micro-businesses’ - business with fewer than 10 employees.”

Also listed among the exemptions, which are part of the Crime and Courts Bill, are a “public body, charity or company that publishes news about their activities” - meaning that aggressive council newspapers would also be exempt as well as online only bloggers.

The NS said: “Exempting competing council papers from the proposed scheme flies in the face of Lord Justice Leveson’s stated recommendation that it 'should not provide an added burden to the regional and local press.’

“It is surely wrong in principle and unworkable in practice for a local paper to be put at a disadvantage to a council paper covering the same news in the same area.

“In this day and age of multiplatform delivery of news and information, it is hard to see why the delivery mechanism should be the trigger for exposure to exemplary damages and punitive costs? We also maintain that these provisions are contrary to Article 10 freedom of expression rights”

The amendments were debated in the House of Commons on Monday and concerns were again raised about how the local press would be affected by the controversial scheme which has been attacked by MPs, global and national associations, writers, magazine publishers, national and local press editors.

Mike Freer MP, Finchley and Golders Green, asked Culture Secretary Maria Miller: “My local newspapers are concerned about why regional and local newspapers are caught in the new legislation, when they were not found to have had a hand in the scandal that brought us to where we are. Will my right hon. Friend reiterate why they are included?”

The Crime and Courts Bill completed its passage through Parliament on Tuesday and now awaits Royal Assent.

This week, more people have come out against the proposals. Professor and Head of Journalism at City University London George Brock wrote on his blog: “Thrashing round trying to define internet sites and blogs which are “news-related” and suchlike won’t work for anyone except lawyers who can spend happy years in court fighting over definitions.

“The government seems frightened of open public debate about issues such as “public interest”. The reporting of the Leveson Report when it came out late last year was shoddy and partial. The negotiations leading up to the Royal Charter were opaque.

“The legislation is whistling through the Commons. Debate hasn’t happened. Opportunities to find better ways have been missed. And Leveson was a great chance to improve law and regulation of the news media, as I tried to explain in this lecture at Gresham College. Pity it was missed."

UKIP leader Nigel Farage told the West Sussex County Times: “Freedom of speech, democracy, the rule of law – these are the absolute fundamentals of free western society, and indeed one could go further and say we fought two world wars to defend these very things.”

“And I am mortified that in a smoke filled room in Westminster at half past two in the morning the Lib Dem and Labour agenda was agreed to by David Cameron and we’re heading towards state regulation of the press, and what we know with all forms of state regulation is that it becomes costly bureaucratic and effectively puts out of the game many of the smaller and medium sized players.

“I am very worried about it, and I don’t like it one bit.”

Former High Court judge Lord McCluskey, who led an expert group which devised a Scottish version of the Leveson report proposals, branded the plans a rule by “decree” which would please dictators like Robert Mugabe. He said Scotland had been “totally ignored” in the process.

The NS is the voice of Britain’s local media, the UK’s most trusted medium. It represents 1,100 newspapers, 1,700 websites and other print, digital and broadcast channels.