Royal Charter ‘redundant’: PM gets Miller to wave white flag
Culture Secretary surprises all sides by agreeing that newspapers should have a chance to self-regulate
CULTURE Secretary Maria Miller’s admission yesterday that the Royal Charter on press regulation, signed and sealed only last week, could after all be “redundant” has left all sides wondering what she is playing at.
Miller startled everyone – the press bosses set against the Royal Charter and the Hacked Off celebrities seeking tougher regulation - when she agreed on Sunday’s Andrew Marr Show that if the national newspapers can make their proposed Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) work, then the Royal Charter would – in Marr’s words - be redundant.
Miller doesn’t act without her boss’s say-so, which must mean that David Cameron has caved in to the fierce opposition to the Charter - led by the Daily Mail’s editor-in-chief Paul Dacre - on the grounds that it amounts to regulation of the press by politicians.
Instead, the PM is backing the continuation of self-regulation by the press if they can prove that Ipso can satisfy the demands for greater justice for those hurt by shoddy journalism.
In short, forget hug a hoodie and hug a huskie. Dave clearly wants to hug the right-wing media bosses in the run-up to the general election. He is counting on their support – and their opposition to ‘Red Ed’ Miliband - to overcome Labour’s consistent lead in the polls.
It is, after all, the Tory-supporting press - Rupert Murdoch's News UK, the Daily Mail publisher Associated, and the Telegraph Media Group – that are behind Ipso. (Publishers of The Guardian and The Observer, the Independent titles and the Financial Times, though opposed to the government's use of a Royal Charter, have not yet signed up for it.)
So far, the media bosses have not responded to Miller’s about-turn. No doubt they think it would be too obvious if they hailed her remarks as a victory for their ‘Press Freedom’ campaign. But that is what they seem to have secured.
Evening Standard editor Sarah Sands told the Marr Show: "It sounds to me as if we are getting to a breakthrough." And Ben Brogan, the Daily Telegraph’s deputy editor, wrote this morning: "Those opposed to press oversight by the new royal charter will be heartened by Maria Miller's comments on Marr yesterday that newspapers will be given a chance to make their reformed regulator work and the charter may not be necessary."
A contributor to the Tory website ConservativeHome this morning posted: “Interesting. Seems that we've been playing a bit of a double game here. Has this called the bluff of both Labour and Hacked Off?”
Quite how far Cameron and Miller have backed down remains to be seen. It appears they still want Ipso to report to the recognition body set up under the Royal Charter; without such recognition, papers could still face exemplary damages and increased costs in libel and privacy cases even if they win in court.
As for Hacked Off, it will not be satisfied if the Royal Charter is ignored by the newspaper industry, according to The Guardian. It quotes a spokesman saying: “The Leveson Report made clear that any press self-regulator would need to be subject to regular inspection over the years to ensure that its standards did not decline and it did not decay into another Press Complaints Commission. That is a key role of the body established under Royal Charter and it is not now within the power of Mrs Miller or any other politician to prevent the charter body operating in that way."
Similarly suspicious is Chris Huhne, the disgraced former Energy Secretary. Writing for The Guardian last night, he said it was "ludicrously implausible" that self-regulation will work for newspapers when it failed in securities trading, banking and construction.
Which inevitably led to an anti-Huhne backlash on Twitter. Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator which has refused to support the Royal Charter, noted: "I love it. Chris Huhne tells the press it needs to 're-establish credibility'."
Back to the Culture Secretary. A former marketing manager with Texaco, Miller has looked out of her depth since being thrown in at the political deep end by Cameron last year with a Cabinet post. As Minister for Women, she championed same-sex marriages despite voting against or being absent from votes on lesbian and gay rights issues. She has flip-flopped on media regulation. She now appears to be swimming round in circles.
Editors are likely to take the view that if it quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck – it is a duck. And after Miller’s remarks, it looks like the Royal Charter on the press is a dead duck.