Press regulation Q&A: legal bid to block Royal Charter fails
Newspaper publishers had sought to delay government’s press regulation plan with injunction
NEWSPAPER publishers have failed in a last-minute bid to block ratification of the government's royal charter on press regulation. The charter – backed by all three main political parties and Hacked Off campaigners – is due to go before the Privy Council for sealing by the Queen today.
Four trade unions from the newspaper and publishing industry had sought a last-minute injunction to delay the move until after a judicial review of the Privy Council's decision to reject their own alternative charter. The publishers, which include the owners of the Daily Mail, Telegraph, Daily Mirror, the Sun and the Times, claim the government’s plans amount to the end of a free press and that the Privy Council failed to consult the industry properly. But the High Court has dismissed their claims.
Politicians and the press have been locked in a row over the details of press regulation in England and Wales for months. So what exactly has been going on?
What do politicians want?
Earlier this year, government proposed a royal charter that would pave the way for a new independent press regulator, with powers to fine news publishers up to £1m and demand prominent apologies and corrections. The charter proposed a free arbitration service for victims of unscrupulous reporting and a faster complaints system. If put in place, the charter would only be subsequently amended if there was a two-thirds majority in both houses of Parliament. During a late-night meeting in March, the proposals won cross-party backing and the support of campaign group Hacked Off.
What do news publishers want?
Newspaper publishers, who were not invited to the meeting, complained that the recommendations were unworkable and have created an alternative royal charter. The Guardian, Financial Times and Independent were the only three national titles not to sign up to it. This charter proposed that more people with experience of the newspaper industry should sit on the panel responsible for future press regulation. It also denied Parliament the power to block or approve future changes to regulation. It also proposed that regulators should only be able to "require" newspapers to make corrections rather than "direct".
Why has it been rejected?
The Privy Council, a body made up of politicians that formally advises the Queen, rejected the industry's alternative charter on 9 October. Maria Miller, the culture secretary, told the Commons that it did not comply with some "important" principles of the Leveson report into press ethics, including independence and access to arbitration.
What has Leveson got to do with it?
Everything. The Leveson Inquiry, set up by David Cameron in July 2011 after the phone-hacking scandal, put press regulation firmly in the spotlight. The public inquiry looked at the culture and ethics of the press and heard from hundreds of witnesses, from celebrities such as Hugh Grant to the families of victims such as the parents of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler. Lord Justice Leveson concluded in November 2012 that the press had "wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people". He recommended that the industry create a new press standards body backed by legislation and a new code of conduct. He also said the press should continue to be self-regulated and that government should not be able to tell them what to publish.
The government looks likely to go ahead with its royal charter. Media commentator Steve Hewlett told BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning that newspapers had wanted want to delay the government's plans in order to get their own regulator, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso), up and running. But as the High Court has rejected their injunction, the next likely move is for the Privy Council to approve the government’s rival proposition. ·