Cameron, Clegg and Miliband could kill the UK’s online media

For any law or regulation to carry the confidence of the public and those caught within its remit, it has to be fair, considered and easily understood.

Can we say the Coalition and Labour’s new press regulation regime meets these criteria?

Across the web there’s confusion, concern and anger about whether the journalistic efforts of sites such as this fall within the scope of the new order.

MayorWatch is clearly “a website containing news-related material (whether or not related to a newspaper or magazine)” and so would seem to be caught by whatever regulatory system emerges.

But maybe it’s not.

Paul Waugh reports that “Small publishers of special interest” are excluded.

Is writing about an under reported, little understood £16bn tier of regional Government a ‘special interest’?

The glazing over of eyes when I try explaining the finer details of City Hall to friends outside the capital or with no interest in politics suggests it’s not a mainstream area of concern.

But if I opt out of the new regulatory system or if my belief to be a small publisher of special interest was found to be wrong, I could face “exemplary damages” if a future Mayor or Assembly Member took issue with something I wrote.

Perhaps I’ve not been doing my job properly, but in 13 years I’ve never been threatened with legal action. But what’s to say a future City Hall tenant will have the same thick hide as Ken and Boris?

If I got something wrong and had to make amends, why should those amends be “exemplary” merely because it pleases three of the least inspirational political leaders this nation has ever produced to sound tough?

The real worry, as Nick Cohen writes, is that the Government itself “doesn’t have a clue” how the regime cobbled together in the small hours on Monday morning will work.

When laws and regulations are unclear its often left to courts to provide clarification, but how many small, independent or niche news providers can afford to fight through the courts to prove that they’re exempt from regulation?

Some urgent clarification is needed before the amateur-hour politicians at Westminster destroy the UK’s vibrant online media.