Wednesday 27 February 2013

'Royal Charter press regulation plan won't happen'

Mick Hume makes a point to Hacked Off's Evan Harris (pic: Jon Slattery)
The proposed Royal Charter plan for a new press regulation system will not happen, Hacked Off associate director Evan Harris predicted at a Media Society debate in London last night.

Harris, a former Liberal Democrat MP, said: "There is no sign of agreement. It is far short of Leveson. I don't believe a Royal Charter will happen" and claimed that there was "no agreement on about 20 issues."

Speaking at the launch of a new book of essays, After Leveson?, The Future of British Journalism, Harris said the Liberal Democrats and Labour supported the recommendations of the "very moderate" Leveson Report.

Harris also claimed that press representatives have insisted that a proposed "conscience clause" for journalists - which would protect them from being sacked if they refused to act unethically in pursuing a story - be kept out of any new press regulation proposal.

The clause was supported by Leveson and has been a long term aim of the NUJ which wants it included in journalists' work contracts.

The debate, in which Mick Hume, author of There Is No Such Thing As A Free Press, took a strong anti-Leveson line to counter Harris, generated more heat than light.

Hume argued that the press was "cowed" by Leveson. He told Harris: "This is a fucking war. A free press is the bedrock of a democratic society."

He described the NUJ, left wingers and liberals who had embraced much of the Leveson Report as "a disgrace".

Speaking from the audience, Dorothy Byrne, commissioning editor for Channel 4 news and current affairs , said big corporations and Governments have tried their best to use Ofcom regulations to block legitimate investigations by Channel 4, including its programmes on war crimes in Sri Lanka.

She added: "Anybody thinking about legal regulation of the press needs to take into account that large corporations and evil regimes will try to use it to stop freedom of speech."

Former News of the World deputy editor Neil Wallis spoke of his ordeal of being on bail for 21 months over the hacking inquiry before police said no action would be taken.

"Frankly, the experience has been horrendous, " he said. "Twenty-one months of being on bail not being charged at the behest of the state is horrendous. That's a pretty scary place to be."

Wallis said his case raised big issues not just about journalists but other areas of the law on the length of time people can be kept on bail without being charged.
  • After Leveson?, The Future of British Journalism, edited by John Mair, is published by Abramis at £19:95.

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