The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is currently conducting a consultation on press regulation which covers issues of profound importance for the news media.

If the proposals in the consultation were enacted, they would cause profound damage to local newspapers.

The Leveson Report recommended ‘voluntary independent self-regulation’. The State Sponsored Royal Charter and interlocking legislation in the Crime and Courts Act is the polar opposite.

READ MORE: Newspaper leaders warn of grave threat to press freedom

There was no parliamentary scrutiny of its terms, nor any consultation with the press or public. It allows politicians to interfere in the regulation of the very voices which hold them to account.

Newspapers and magazines which decline to be bound by it now face the prospect of being punished in the courts.

Under the Crime and Courts Act 2013, they are currently liable to pay exemplary (punitive) damages. If section 40 were brought into force, they would be ordered to pay both sides’ costs, win or lose, for court actions for libel, breach of confidence, misuse of private information, harassment, malicious falsehood, or slander.

So even if the publisher won the action, if the court was satisfied that the report was true, lawfully published, in the public interest, and that publisher, editor and reporters had all acted lawfully, the publisher would still have to pay the losing claimant’s and its own costs.

The Act is intended to force newspaper publishers into membership of a regulator and use of its arbitration scheme, approved by the Press Recognition Panel under the Royal Charter on Self Regulation of the Press.

This was described by the industry as a charter ‘written by politicians, imposed by politicians and controlled by politicians’.

The vast majority of UK national and regional newspapers and magazines established and joined Ipso, which will not apply for recognition If the section 40 costs sanctions are triggered, local newspaper publishers would be put at risk of crippling legal costs.

They would become vulnerable to threats and claims from claimants and their lawyers, emboldened to pursue weak claims for high fees.

The latter could also exploit the legislation to force financial settlement, given this would still be lower than paying both sides’ legal costs.

Despite the legislative ‘incentives’, not a single significant relevant newspaper or magazine is willing to sign up to the Charter and its press recognition scheme.

Britain’s press is already subject to many criminal and civil laws covering anything from defamation, harassment, contempt of court, court reporting, data protection, official secrets to phone hacking.

There is simply no need for further state intervention.