Tories set out press watchdog plans but reject statutory regulation

Wed, Feb 13, 2013, 00:00

Statutory regulation of the press in the United Kingdom has been rejected by the Conservative Party, which published plans yesterday for a new watchdog.

The proposed body, if established, would be set up by a royal charter, rather than by legislation – just like the BBC, which would make it difficult for subsequent governments to change.

If proposals to change it are made, then a government would have to get the written consent of each of the Commons’ three main parties, along with a two-thirds majority in the Commons and House of Lords.

An eight-strong board – none of whom could be publishers or civil servants – would deal with complaints, and would have the power to launch investigations even if none are made.

Members would be appointed by another body, chaired by a Supreme Court justice – though it would not include serving editors or politicians.

Rejecting demands to go further, culture secretary Maria Miller said the proposals “would see the toughest press regulation this country has ever seen, without compromising press freedom”.

Code of practice

If implemented, it would mean that non-journalists would be involved for the first time in drawing up the trade’s code of practice, which covers the need for accuracy and the respecting of privacy.

The body would have powers to regulate websites, including some that are not registered in the United Kingdom, according to the department of culture, media and sport documents.

After months of bitter wrangling, there were signals last night that agreement could be reached between the Conservatives and Labour, which has demanded State regulation.

The Conservatives’ proposals were mentioned at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting in London, with the No 10 spokesman saying that the Liberal Democrats agreed with their publication, if not their content.

In his report, Lord Justice Leveson pressed for independent self-regulation, backed up by law – an outcome that would threaten press freedom, say opponents.

Last night, the Labour Party, which questioned much of the detail of the Conservatives’ plan, said an agreement should be reached by February 22nd.