UK

Newspapers' press regulation plans rejected

  • 8 October 2013
  • From the section UK

Newspaper proposals for a royal charter covering press regulation have been rejected by the Privy Council, the culture secretary has told the Commons.

Maria Miller said they did not comply with some "important" principles of the Leveson report into the press, such as independence and access to arbitration.

The alternative plans proposed by the government after cross-party talks would now be "improved", she added.

Ministers were said to be willing to consider some of the industry's ideas.

The charter will then be put forward for approval at a specially convened meeting of the Privy Council - a cross-party, governmental advisory body - on 30 October, Mrs Miller said.

BBC political editor Nick Robinson said the decision to reject the industry plans was taken by a sub-committee of four Tories and two Lib Dems and it had been clear for some time that they felt the industry proposals were not independent enough.

But government sources have told the BBC they are seeking "workable press regulation".

Our political editor said there was a fear at ministerial level of a possible legal challenge by newspapers to the Privy Council decision.

Campaign group Hacked Off said the rejection of the industry's charter was "long overdue".

Its director Brian Cathcart said: "This is a solution to a long-standing problem affecting many, many ordinary people...

"It is time now [the press] stepped up and accepted what is a workable, fair solution that poses no threat whatsoever to freedom of expression in this country."

Options for the self-regulation of the press were proposed in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry, set up in July 2011 after it emerged journalists working for the now-closed News of the World had hacked into the mobile phone of murdered Surrey schoolgirl Milly Dowler.

But politicians and the newspapers have clashed over the details of a royal charter - a formal document used to establish and lay out the terms of a body - to underpin the new regulator.

'Once-in-a-generation opportunity'

The government's proposals, published in March, won Parliamentary backing.

The industry's plans were formally proposed by the majority of the UK's newspaper groups in July amid concerns the government charter gave politicians too much power.

Mrs Miller told MPs: "The committee of the Privy Council is unable to recommend the press's proposal for a royal charter be granted.

"Whilst there are areas where it is acceptable, it is unable to comply with some important Leveson principles and government policy."

But she said the committee had identified issues where the cross-party charter could be improved, including arbitration and the editors' code of conduct.

Mrs Miller told MPs: "We have an opportunity to take a final look at our charter, an opportunity to bring all parties together and ensure that the final charter is both workable and effective.

"We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get this right. We all want it to be the best we can do to give individuals access to redress whilst safeguarding this country's free press which forms such a vital part of our democracy."

Spectator magazine editor Fraser Nelson, writing in a blog on the publication's website, said it would "have no part in any government-mandated regulator" for the press.

"Spectator readers would be appalled if we signed up to some kind of regulatory hierarchy which had politicians at the top," he said.

"They expect us to be holding these guys to account, not dancing to their tune."

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New press regulator: Proposals compared

UK newspapers

Political involvement:

  • Government: Royal Charter could be amended by Parliament, but only if there were a two-thirds majority in both houses
  • Newspapers: Parliament could not block or approve any future changes to regulation. Instead the regulator, trade bodies and the regulator's panel would have to agree to changes

"Recognition" panel:

  • Government: Former editors would be banned from serving on the "recognition panel", which would decide whether newspapers were being regulated properly
  • Newspapers: Former editors would be allowed to serve and there would be a requirement for at least one member to have newspaper industry experience

Appointments process:

  • Government: Appointments committee to consist of four members, none of whom could be a serving editor or MP
  • Newspapers: Want one of the four members to "represent the interests of relevant publishers"

Corrections and apologies:

  • Government: Regulator to have the power to demand prominent corrections and apologies from publishers and impose £1m fines. Regulator board would "direct" the nature, extent and placement of corrections
  • Newspapers: Regulator to have the power to ensure "up-front corrections, with inaccuracies corrected fully and prominently" and to impose £1m fines for "systematic wrongdoing". However, the board would "require" rather than "direct" in relation to apologies

Arbitration:

  • Government: A free arbitration service would be provided for victims and a fast complaints system would be established to ensure all individuals could afford to pursue action against publishers
  • Newspapers: An arbitration service would offer "a speedy and inexpensive alternative to the libel courts, subject to the successful conclusion of a pilot scheme". However, papers are concerned a free service would lead to a surge of claims for damages
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