YOU may not like everything you see on this website (or its accompanying newspaper), but probably appreciate the vital role it plays in your community.

Among other things, it keeps you informed about what local politicians are doing, what criminals are up to and how they are being punished. It also celebrates the happier side of life – people’s achievements and celebrations, and the work of local organisations.

It is no exaggeration to say all that is under threat by a pernicious and ill-conceived piece of legislation currently being considered by Parliament.

Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act could force newspapers and magazines (and their websites) to pay both sides’ costs in privacy and libel cases even if they successfully defend a legal action by showing their reporting was accurate and publication was in the public interest.

Under the cover of the Leveson Inquiry that examined wrong-doing by a small number of journalists – which has already been dealt with in the criminal and civil courts – the new rules would penalise papers even if they prove in court that they had printed the truth to inform the public about matters they are entitled to know.

The legislation is part of scheme to force newspapers to join a regulator backed by a Royal Charter dreamed up by politicians at a late-night meeting over beer and pizzas.

Implementing Section 40 would cripple the local and regional press. Papers like this could close.

Most newspapers and magazines are already regulated by IPSO – the new Independent Press Standards Organisation – but refuse to apply for recognition under the Royal Charter because that would be a loophole to state regulation and censorship.

If the Section 40 orders are introduced, the constant threat of legal action would have a devastating effect on reporting.

Newspapers outside a Royal Charter recognised regulator will be faced with the threat of legal action by those who wish to suppress stories that are in the public interest by relying on the presumption that newspapers will be forced to pay their legal costs regardless of whether they win or lose.

Newspapers will not be able to afford to take the risk even when they know they are right and the public interest is clear. Whistleblowers would have no-one to help them expose wrong-doing.

Supporters of Section 40 and the Royal Charter claim it satisfies recommendations of the Leveson report on press behaviour.

In fact, senior judge Sir Brian Leveson said he wanted to encourage all newspapers to join one regulator but did not suggest a Royal Charter.

His report made clear that his recommendations “should not provide an added burden to the regional and local press”.

See more here: Press freedom is at stake - why the Worcester News needs YOU

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