Free Press

U.K. Government Hazy About Online Press Regulation

Nobody seems sure whether the new scheme applies to the Internet

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As plastered all over the news yesterday, politicians and anti-tabloid campaigners finally hatched a plan to form a publishing regulator, by royal charter, with the ability to fine misbehaving organs and demand corrections to articles. The letter of the law underpinning the watchdog states it will cover websites; government spin-doctors are saying otherwise.

By approving the legislation, tacked onto the Crime and Courts Bill, has Parliament just voted to regulate internet speech? We know that online publications will be subject to new regulations – and anyone can create a website and publish news. If a publisher doesn't agree to join the new scheme, even though the regulator rules that it should, that publisher could face bonus libel costs even if it wins a defamation case.

So who's in? Who will sign up? Who should sign up?

Amazingly, the question appears to have taken Downing Street by surprise, and last night Number 10's spinners appeared to be making up definitions on the hoof.