Friday, 11 October 2013

Royal Charter 'imposed by politicians' says press

The newspaper and magazine industry's initial reaction to the revised Royal Charter on press regulation is far from enthusiastic - claiming it is being imposed by politicians and cannot be considered voluntary.

The Industry Steering Group, representing newspaper and magazine publishers, says: "We welcome the fact that, after more than six months, politicians are finally seeing some of the flaws in their unacceptable and unilateral March 18 Charter. We will study their latest proposals closely.

"However this remains a Charter written by politicians, imposed by politicians and controlled by politicians. It has not been approved by any of the newspapers or magazines it seeks to regulate.

"Meanwhile the industry’s Charter was rejected by eight politicians, meeting in secret, and chaired by the same politician who is promoting the politicians' Charter.

"Lord Justice Leveson called for ‘voluntary, independent self-regulation’ of the press. It is impossible to see how a regulator operating under rules imposed by politicians, and enforced by draconian and discriminatory provisions for damages and costs in civil cases, could be said to be either voluntary or independent."

  • The Industry Steering Group comprises the Newspaper Society, Newspaper Publishers Association, Professional Publishers Association and the Scottish Newspaper Society.

Spectator editor Fraser Nelson gave his verdict on Twitter:

Society of Editors executive director Bob Satchwell told BBC News: "You can't have a new system of regulation which is drawn up by and imposed by politicians. The things which are being proposed at the moment would be totally unconstitutional in the US and other countries.

"People in other countries, not just journalists, are looking at what's going on here at the moment with horror."

Boris Johnson, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Good for Fraser Nelson. It strikes me that he is 100 per cent right. The editor of The Spectator has announced that his ancient and illustrious publication will have nothing whatever to do with any new system of press regulation. He will neither bow nor truckle to any kind of control. He will not “sign up”. He will politely tell the new bossyboots institution to mind its own beeswax, and he will continue to publish without fear or favour. I think the whole of the media should do the same.

"Stuff all this malarkey about the Privy Council and a Royal Charter. Who are the Privy Council, for goodness’ sake? They are just a bunch of politicians, a glorified version of the government of the day. We are on the verge of eroding the freedom of the press. We are undermining the work of everyone from John Milton to John Wilkes – men who fought for the right to say and publish things of which politicians disapproved."

Hugo Rifkind in The Times: "Of course, supporters will pretend this isn’t a press law, as they have been doing all along, but it’s a shabby pose. Ultimately the great distinction between these two charters was the role of Parliament. What the press wanted for Parliament was no role at all. Whereas what Parliament wanted, and got, was to be the final backstop; the great overlord, the deciding voice as to whether this mooted new regulator was doing its job. That’s a law. That’s what a law is. This is precisely the sort of situation that old saying about things that look and quack like ducks was devised for. It’s a great big quacking law."

Private Eye's view: 

Patrick Smith at TheMediaBriefing points out that the following would not be regulated by the Royal Charter:
  • The BBC (which is regulated by Ofcom)
  • All B2B media "titles" based on a profession of industry, regardless of size
  • Specialist consumer "titles" based on a pastime or hobby, regardless of size
  • Scientific journals
  • Anything published by a charity or "public body"
  • Internal company newsletters and mags
  • Book publishers
  • Blogs... But these are exempt only if they have fewer than 10 employees (not clear whether this means the brand or the parent business) and make less than £2 million a year. Note that many local newspapers (and very nearly some nationals) would fail to breach these thresholds.
  • Everyone on Twitter
  • Everyone on Facebook, Tumblr, the internet generally etc
Here's the list of things that definitely will be covered
  • National and regional newspapers in print and online
  • Maybe the Huffington Post and
  • Er, that's it
UPDATE: October 24

World press groups urge Queen not to sign Royal Charter

A group of  global press freedom and media organisations have written an open letter to the Queen asking her to reject a proposed Royal Charter that would impose "repressive statutory controls" on the British press.
It said: “For more than three centuries since Britain abolished the last set of statutory controls on the press in 1695, the United Kingdom has been a consistent champion of the most crucial freedom of all - freedom of expression – and a beacon of liberty across the world,” said the letter, signed by seven international media organisations (see below).

“Freedom of expression was central to the European Convention of Human Rights which Britain helped draft. It is part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which the UK is a signatory. It is a core belief in the Commonwealth Charter which Britain inspired. Free speech and freedom of expression have throughout the 20th and 21st centuries therefore been at the core of Britain’s international commitments, of its leadership of the free world, and of its international reputation as a liberal democracy.

“Yet all that is now in danger. No one should be in any doubt that the proposed Royal Charter which politicians are forcing Your Majesty to sign is, despite the camouflage, in reality a set of repressive statutory controls being imposed on the press against its will. That should not be the function of a Royal Charter.”

The letter said the Charter would not only have an impact on press freedom in the United Kingdom, but would be used by repressive regimes worldwide to justify their own control of the press.

“The actions of Britain’s Parliament will be used as an excuse by those who want to muzzle the press in their own country and stifle the free flow of information – and there are many governments who would love to do so,” the letter said. “And it is your name, Your Majesty, that will regrettably be taken in vain. ‘If it is good enough for the Queen, it is good enough for us.’”

The letter was signed by the Commonwealth Press Union Trust, the Worldwide Magazine Media Association (FIPP), the Inter American Press Association, the International Association of Broadcasting, the International Press Institute, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), and the World Press Freedom Committee.

UPDATE: October 24 Press Statement by press industry:

Newspaper and Magazine Industry Applies to High Court for Judicial Review of Privy Council Decision on Royal Charter

In April 2013, the newspaper and magazine industry submitted an application to the Privy Council for a Royal Charter to establish an independent “Recognition Panel” to oversee applications for the recognition of a self regulatory system of press regulation.

This application was rejected by a committee of the Privy Council on 8th October, and an Order to that effect was issued on 9th October.

Given the critical importance to a free society of the issues involved in the granting of a Charter on this subject, which goes to the very heart of press freedom and the right of free expression, it was vital that the consideration of this application be undertaken fairly and rationally.

After studying the matter closely, it is the clear view of the industry’s trade associations, which submitted the Charter through the Press Standards Board of Finance, that the application was not dealt with fairly, that the press had a right to be consulted which the Government and the Privy Council failed to do, and that the procedures deployed were irrational.

We believe that the decision and the Order were therefore unlawful, and the industry’s associations through PressBof are applying to the High Court for judicial review and to have the decision quashed.
The application will not impact in any way on the implementation of the new Independent Press Standards Organisation.

Lord Black of Brentwood, Chairman of the Press Standards Board of Finance (the industry body which funds the regulatory system), said:“The decision by the Government and the Privy Council on this matter has enormous ramifications for free speech both here in the UK, and – because of our leadership role in the Commonwealth and developing world – across the globe.

"The Government and the Privy Council should have applied the most rigorous standards of consultation and examination of the Royal Charter proposed by the industry, which would have enshrined tough regulatory standards at the same time as protecting press freedom. They singularly failed to do so, and that is why – as the issues at stake are so extraordinarily high - we are having to take this course of action.”

October 24: Final plans announced for Independent Press Standards Organisation

Statement from The Industry Implementation Group, representing news and magazine publishers from across the press, has published the final set of plans for the establishment of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPS0).

"This follows an extensive series of consultations across the industry, involving lawyers and senior editorial representatives covering hundreds of publications.

The final plans – to which the vast majority of publishers have indicated they are committed – are contained in a series of legal documents, totalling over 80 pages, which are being published on a dedicated website, They include:
  • the contract which will bind publishers to IPSO and give the regulator tough powers of investigation, enforcement and sanction;
  • the regulations under which IPSO will operate, investigate complaints and undertake standards investigations;
  • the Articles of Association which will set out the governance of the regulator and guarantee its independence;
  • the financial sanctions guidance under which IPSO will be able to impose fines of up to £1 million; and
  • the Articles of Association of a new Regulatory Funding Company setting out transparently how IPSO will be funded.
The process of asking publishers formally to sign the contracts will now begin through the industry’s trade associations. It is expected to take around eight weeks.
At the same time, an independent appointments process established by a Foundation Group under Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers is expected to begin work shortly.

The two processes of legal implementation and independent appointments procedures should be completed to allow IPSO to begin work early in the new year.

Paul Vickers, chairman of the Industry Implementation Group and executive director of Trinity Mirror plc, said: “Today’s publication is the result of almost nine months of work and consultation across our large and diverse industry. As a result of this painstaking and thorough exercise, we can now move to establish the tough, independent, effective regulator that Lord Justice Leveson called for in his report.

“I am very grateful to many colleagues in the industry – both legal and editorial – who have completed such a mammoth task. “I am confident that what we have produced will be the toughest regulator anywhere in the developed world – one which will guarantee the public the protection it deserves, but which will also ensure we maintain the free press on which our democracy is founded.”

UPDATE: October 30

DCMS has published cross-party Royal Charter here

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