TODAY is the last chance for members of the public to have their say on saving this newspaper and the rest of the regional press from potential oblivion.
A government consultation into the way in which the press should be regulated closes today at 5pm, giving readers one last chance to rally behind their local newspapers.
As the Daily Echo has explained in recent weeks, the consultation was launched by the Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport, Karen Bradley, pictured inset, who is poised to enact what is referred to as Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act.
If enacted, Section 40 would demand that newspapers taken to court over allegations of libel and other matters would be forced to pay all of the legal costs including those of a complainant even if they won the case.
To escape from such draconian measures newspapers – both local and national – would have to join the government’s recognised press regulator IMPRESS backed by funds provided by millionaire motor racing tycoon Max Mosley.
The Daily Echo, in line with 90 per cent of the 2,500 local printed and on-line newspaper in the UK, have refused to join IMPRESS and have instead agreed to be regulated by the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO).
Those publishers who back IPSO do so because they believe that it is truly independent of the influence and control of politicians, something that cannot be said for Impress with its recognition by the Royal Charter, they claim. Supporters of Impress, who include celebrities, some of the victims of phone hacking and the press campaigning group Hacked Off, say IPSO does not meet the requirements laid down by Lord Justice Leveson in his report after the public enquiry into press conduct.
Even after today’s consultation period ends a swift decision by the Secretary of State may not follow as there are several legal challenges taking place. The News Media Association (NMA) announced yesterday that it was launching a judicial review against the decision to recognise Impress by the Press Recognition Panel (PRP). The NMA claims that Impress should not be recognised as a regulator as it has no guaranteed funding going into the future and does not have the backing of the vast majority of national and local publishers.
Other legal challenges have been set in motion by victims of phone hacking who claim that the Secretary of State should not have put the matter of Section 40 out to consultation.
John Whittingdale, the former culture secretary, said that he feared that if Section 40 was introduced it would see the closure of some local newspapers.
“The principle concern about the cost provision is that anyone who wants to take down a newspaper who has a lot of money, whether they are a Russian oligarch or an aggrieved millionaire, can throw accusations at a newspaper with the knowledge that even if they lose they would still land the newspapers with a massive bill.”
Editor in Chief of the Southern Daily Echo, Ian Murray, added: “This is not just unjust and unfair but it strikes at the very heart of free speech and a free press’s role to police local democracy and play an active part in being the glue that sticks together a community.
“If we can be destroyed by someone who simply wishes to bankrupt us with never-ending court actions then what price freedom of speech, what price democracy in this country.”
Anyone wishing to have their say on the consultation can visit: freethepress.co.uk