Although anyone is free to publish a newspaper in England, publishers are still subject to a little known and apparently anachronistic “registration” requirement. This arises under the Newspaper Libel and Registration Act 1881 (“the 1881 Act”) which requires newspapers which are published in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to be registered with Companies House.
The 1881 Act defines a “newspaper” as
“any paper containing public news, intelligence, or occurrences, or any remarks or observations therein printed for sale, and published in England or Ireland periodically, or in parts or numbers at intervals not exceeding twenty-six days between the publication of any two such papers, parts, or numbers” (s.1)
The duty to register is placed on the “printers and publishers. Companies House provides Guidance on how to register.
Failure to comply with the registration requirement attracts a financial penalty. By section 10 of the 1881 Act
“If within the further period of one month after the time herein-before appointed for the making of any return as to any newspaper such return be not made, then each printer and publisher of such newspaper shall, on conviction thereof, be liable to a penalty not exceeding level 2 on the standard scale [that is, £500], and also to be directed by a summary order to make a return within a specified time“.
However, the impact of this “registration regime” is substantially remove by section 18 of the Act. This provides that the registration requirement does not apply newspaper which belongs a company formed and registered under the Companies Act 2006 or incorporated in another EEA state. In other words, the requirement does not apply to any national newspapers and to most local newspapers which are usually owned by companies.
As a result of a 2010 Freedom of Information request, we can see the 2009 List of Newspaper Registrations without payment of the inspection fee. The list runs from “Alaab Alcomputtar” to “Zack is Back News” and contains names such as the “War Cry” and the “Morning Star” along with a small number of local newspapers.
The registration requirement under the 1881 Act appears to be a strange anachronism – harking back to the day of newspaper licensing. It is difficult to see the utility of these registration requirements – particularly as they do not apply to most newspapers. We would be interested to know if our readers can cast any light on this point. Perhaps the Leveson Inquiry could consider – in a small footnote – whether the 1881 Act serves any useful purpose.