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Bid to exempt local press from new regulatory system

A last-ditch bid is under way to exempt local and regional publishers from the proposed new system of press regulation.

Regional editors have been highly critical of the cross-party plans agreed this week for a new press regulator overseen by Royal Charter.

Now a Conservative back bench peer is to table a series of amendments in the House of Lords which could exempt local press publishers from the threat of exemplary damages if they refused to join the new system.

Lord Lucas has tabled amendments to the Crime and Courts Bill which would also protect bloggers and non-profit making publications from the scope of the proposals.

The series of amendments lists three specific categories of publications which should be exempt from the system.

They include: “A publisher who focuses on a specific locality or region and only reports national issues on an incidental basis that is relevant to such local or regional matters.”

Given the cross-party deal on press regulation reached earlier this week, it is unclear whether any of the major parties would be prepared to back the proposed amendments.

However industry body the Newspaper Society has made clear there are still “deeply contentious issues” to be resolved with the current proposals.

NS president and Archant chief executive Adrian Jeakings said this week that the Royal Charter proposals would place a “crippling burden” on local newspapers.

He said:  “Lord Justice Leveson found that the UK’s local media had nothing to do with the phone hacking scandal which prompted the inquiry. Indeed, he praised regional and local newspapers for their important social and democratic role and recommended that the regulatory model proposed should not provide an added burden to our sector.”

Ian Murray, editor in chief of the Southern Daily Echo, was one of many regional editors to hit out at the proposals.

“We have neither hacked into phones nor deliberately set out to deceive, compromise nor vilify, and yet we will be caught in this expensive, debilitating new regime, thought up by politicians and lawyers to impress the voters, curry favour with celebrities and let themselves off the hook,” he said.