Newspapers rally to protect press freedom by highlighting public disapproval for Max Mosley-backed regulator

Max Mosley is one of the key investors in Impress

The newspaper industry, represented by the News Media Association (NMA), is rallying to protect the freedom of press by attempting to illustrate public dismay against a Max Mosley-backed press regulator, while opposing a law that could see newspapers that refuse to sign up to the regulator pay libel costs even if a court case is won.

In a YouGov poll commissioned by the NMA, the majority of respondents opposed a press regulator funded by wealthy individuals and trusts, representing just 4% of the 1632 respondents. This is the model employed by Impress, first established in 2014 and bankrolled by former F1 owner Max Mosley and author JK Rowling, which became the first state-approved press regulator in October last year.

The regulator was set up in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry in 2011 as an alternative to Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso), the body which currently regulates the majority of the industry and is funded by its members. Ipso has been slammed by press reform campaigners for its lack of independence, claiming it is controlled by the very newspapers it regulates. However, in the YouGov poll published today (4 January), 49% agree with this funding model.

Rival regulator Impress has failed to sign up major newspaper brands who oppose its private funding model and Max Mosley specifically who “has had it in for the press ever since a newspaper revealed his sado-masochistic orgy with five prostitutes”, Metro wrote today.

Newspapers have expressed concerns about Impress’ so-called independence, and see it as a threat to press freedom in light of the Section 40 law that could see newspapers that refuse to sign up to the new regulator pay the legal fees of libel complaints, even if the paper won the case.

Such measures could force smaller brands out of business because of the excessive court fees they would have to pay, and could open the door for more people to mount defamation cases safe in the knowledge that the paper would have to pay court costs.

In its first opinion piece in its 17-year history, Metro called out the penalty law as “illiberal” and “illogical”, and expressed concerns about the future of newspapers across the country should the new law come into force.

Culture secretary Karen Bradley will have to decide whether to activate these regulations.

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