Is press regulation imminent as politicians reject media's charter?
By Alex Ward
The day the UK press is independently regulated will be a significant first in British history.
Politicians and news agencies have been negotiating on how this inaugural press watchdog will operate but today there were reports that politicians had rejected the newspaper industry’s proposals.
Reportedly senior politicians in a subcommittee of the Privy Council (which advises the Queen) deemed the media’s version for the press regulator by royal charter as ‘flawed’ according to BBC’s Newsnight.
If a unanimous vote is made by the full Privy Council today to reject the media’s charter, the group will turn their focus to the government’s proposal for state regulation.
Negotiations over press regulation have been going since March in response to the Leveson Inquiry which recommended that new press standards and a code of conduct needed to be implemented and propped up by legislation.
The inquiry into press standards came in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal which affected hundreds of famous people and ordinary people struck by tragedy including the parents of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler. It recommended that state regulation be implemented to reign in the press.
Throughout the process, the government and the media have been at odds over how the charter should manifest.
The government’s proposal – which has backing from politicians and campaigners – was issued in March and aims to force news publications (newspapers, magazines and websites with news-related content) to publish prominent apologies and corrections as well as be subject to fines of £1m.
In response, the industry labelled the proposal an ‘unacceptable degree of interference’ and put forward a rival proposal for royal charter which included some major differences including:
• The Parliament should not have the power to have the final say on regulation changes in the future.
• Former editors and/or peers should be included in the panel which will decide the future of the industry. The government’s charter included a ban of such professionals.
• One or more board members should be from the newspaper industry.
• The government should not have the power to direct the placement, content and size of apologies and corrections.
Since both sides have laid their cards on the table there has been a flurry of strong, polarised opinions concerning the charter. What comes next is the Privy Council’s official decision on the media’s rival charter which is not due until later this month.
Accountable press campaigner Hacked Off said that the press’ rival charter was ‘a wrecking manoeuvre by unrepentant sections of the press trying to avoid accountability and carry on with a broken system of press regulation’.
Gerry McCann, who has been under intense media scrutiny since the highly-publicised disappearance of his daughter Madeleine, called the media’s charter a ‘gentlemen’s club agreement’ and urged politicians to reject it.
In contrast, Index on Censorship chief executive Kirsty Hughes wrote: ‘The press cannot be under politicians’ thumbs if they are to hold power to account, and the press must obey the law like anyone else. But press laws or MPs voting on how the press is regulated are the tools of authoritarian regimes.’
And so the debate continues.