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 industry.

I believe if the proposals in the consultation were enacted, they would cause profound damage to local and national newspapers.

The Leveson Report on the Culture, Practices and Ethics of the Press recommended ‘voluntary independent self-regulation’.

The State Sponsored Royal Charter and interlocking legislation in the Crime and Courts Act is the polar opposite of that recommendation.

There was no parliamentary scrutiny of its terms nor any consultation with the press or the public.

It allows politicians to interfere in the regulation of the very voices which hold them and others in authority to account on behalf of their readers and investigate cases of corruption and wrong-doing.

Newspapers and magazines which decline to be bound by it now face the prospect of being punished in the courts for refusing to succumb to state press regulation.

Under the Crime and Courts Act 2013, they are now 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, because the court was satisfied that the report was true, had been lawfully published, was in the public interest, and that publisher, editor and reporters had also all acted lawfully, the publisher would still have to pay the losing claimant’s costs 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 under the Royal Charter.

Such publishers are now already liable for exemplary damages under the 2013 Act if they lose actions.

If the section 40 costs sanctions are triggered, local newspaper publishers would be put at risk of crippling legal costs, for vindication of their titles’ lawful, responsible reporting.

They would become vulnerable to threats and claims from claimants and their lawyers, emboldened to pursue weak claims for high fees, since such claimants will not have to risk the usual legal costs of failure.

The latter could also exploit the legislation to force financial settlement of complaints, given this would still be lower than the local title paying both sides’ legal costs for successful defence of its journalism in court.

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

It has been condemned by human rights groups and freedom of expression campaigners around the world.

The British public is itself overwhelmingly opposed to giving politicians control over press regulation.

Britain’s press is already subject to numerous criminal and civil laws which impact upon news gathering and reporting.

There are statutes covering anything from defamation, harassment, contempt of court, court reporting restrictions, data protection, official secrets to phone hacking.

There is simply no need for further state intervention into press regulation.

But the industry accepted the need for a new and tougher system of self-regulation to replace the Press Complaints Commission and established the framework for a voluntary, independent system of press regulation which is believed to be the toughest in the western world.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) delivers on the Leveson principles, as the recent Independent Reviewer’s report demonstrates, binding the industry to an enduring regulatory system and one which is of real benefit to the public.

But crucially this system is underpinned by contract law and not by Parliament.

It allows the press to retain its fundamental democratic freedom to scrutinise politicians and others in positions of power, acting as the public’s watchdog and championing the right to know.

The vast majority of UK national, regional and local newspaper and magazine publishers joined Ipso, which was a huge achievement given that each company had to sign legally binding five-year contracts.These guarantee Ipso its independence and give it tough powers of investigation and enforcement, including the ability to impose £1million fines for systematic wrongdoing.

It upholds the editors’ code of practice, (governing accuracy, privacy and other voluntary restraints), oversees a robust complaints system, free to the user. It can order the prominent publication of corrections and adverse adjudications. It is trialling an arbitration system but local papers will not be forced to use this.

A wholly independent appointments process was overseen by a former Head of the Supreme Court and delivered a Chairman, former court of appeal judge Sir Alan Moses, and a Board for Ipso. The regulator has been up and running since September 2014.

Ipso provides real protection for ordinary people affected by media coverage.

It has tough powers and sanctions to ensure the sort of practices described at the Leveson Inquiry can never happen again.

But it also ensures that British people can still rely on a free press, able to expose wrongdoing and hold the powerful to account, one of the cornerstones of our democracy for the past 300 years.