The Government will consider amendments to the Data Protection Bill after editors warned it could threaten the future of UK journalism.
Under current proposed laws many news publishers would be forced to pay huge legal bills if they were taken to court, even if they won the case.
Ministers are due to reconsider the amendment, made by the House of Lords, tomorrow.
Ian Murray, executive director of the Society of Editors, said there were “deep concerns” over the costs sanctions.
“This would in effect close down investigative journalism in the UK and would in all likelihood also see the closure of some local newspapers if enacted in the current form,” he said.
He added that the amendment “effectively threatens publications that would, if they are taken to court for data protection matters and win the case, still be liable for all legal costs”.
He described the sanctions as “totally unjust and totally indefensible” and said it would see local newspapers “being forced out of business or lead to all newspapers in particular finding it extremely difficult to carry out any investigations into any topics whatsoever”.
Peter Clifton, Press Association editor-in-chief, said in written evidence to the Public Bill Committee that “all of PA’s services will be put at risk” by the costs sanctions.
“These provisions could, and doubtless will, be used to devastating effect against the Press Association as well as all other news agencies and international, national and local newspapers and magazines,” he added.
“The provisions in these clauses of the Bill jeopardise our bedrock news services that ensure open government and open justice.”
The amendment would apply to publishers not signed up to a Royal Charter-recognised regulator.
The majority of newspapers and press agencies are regulated by the Independent Press Standards Organisation, which has said it will not apply for Royal Charter recognition.
Clifton added: “The Press Association has – completely lawfully – chosen to join Ipso, the Independent Press Standards Organisation, which is funded by the news industry.
“Our 400 journalists and editorial staff must adhere to the Editors’
Code of Practice and the standards this sets, over and above the demands of the myriad laws that impact upon reporting.
“Yet, simply because we have, for reasons of principle, chosen to join Ipso and not a regulator approved under the Royal Charter system, clauses 168 and 169 of the Data Protection Bill will require courts dealing with claims against us of data protection breaches to rule that we must pay all the legal costs – our own and our accuser’s – however false any allegation against us proves to be.”
Currently the only regulator recognised under the Royal Charter system is Impress, which has fewer than 80 members.