Newspapers’ plans for post-Leveson press regulation rejected
Privy council delays decision on royal charter as efforts to find agreement are dogged by distrust
Plans on how to regulate the British press industry have been delayed until later this month after a difficult meeting of the key players rejected the regulatory plans proposed by the industry but also could not agree whether to back the royal charter passed by parliament.
The privy council is due to meet tomorrow and will reject the industry version of the charter.
Campaigners for victims of press intrusion believed the meeting of the privy council would then seal the royal charter proposed by parliament at the same meeting.
However, it is understood prime minister David Cameron dug in his heels and told his Liberal Democrat partners that it would be better to delay a decision until later in the month.
Sources suggested that a special privy council would be held on October 30th, coincidentally at the time when the phone-hacking trials are likely to have started.
Fraser Nelson, editor of the Spectator, said in a blog late last night: “We don’t need politicians’ permission to have a free press in Britain: it’s a sacred right we have enjoyed for more than three centuries.
“What the privy council is now proposing would be illegal in America, where freedom of speech is protected in the first amendment.”
Nick Clegg as well as the Labour party pressed Mr Cameron to accept the royal charter set out by parliament and all three main political parties, but the prime minister argued it was better to see if a compromise could still be reached in which the industry and the politicians could agree on the relatively narrow points of contention between them. Mr Clegg may express his frustration at the attitude of the media and the prime minister.
In practice, all decisions will be made by ministers to ensure that the privy council attended by the Queen does not become embroiled in political controversy.
A subcommittee of eight coalition ministers had been examining the industry’s favoured version of press regulation for months, but there is still little trust between government and the press – even though in theory their differences are small.
Brian Cathcart, executive director of Hacked Off, which campaigns for victims of press intrusion, said the industry plan had been a “delaying manoeuvre” by the big national newspapers.
“The problem with the papers is that they do not want to deal fairly with complaints,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
Chris Blackhurst, group content editor of the Independent and its sister titles, told the programme that either charter would “cost all newspapers a lot more money”.
“It’s well known that the newspaper industry is in trouble,” he added.
“Unfortunately, what’s happened is that all the positions are completely polarised and that’s also true of Hacked Off, it’s true of the politicians, it’s true of the press, and we are all in our trenches and we are all chucking grenades at each other and we are not really very far apart.”
“It has to be seen as a great victory for the forces of oppression of a free press, Hacked Off in particular and the politicians who have gone along for the ride,” he told Newsnight.