Press regulation: Main parties agree deal

Newspaper stand The press have not signed up to the all-party charter

A Royal Charter aimed at underpinning self-regulation of the press has been published by the government.

An agreement by the three main parties followed months of wrangling since Sir Brian Leveson published his report into the ethics and practices of the press.

Culture Secretary Maria Miller said the deal would safeguard the freedom of the press and the future of local papers.

But the industry said the proposals could neither be described as "voluntary or independent".

BBC political correspondent Ross Hawkins said the agreed draft could become a formal Royal Charter by the end of October - although some newspapers look set to go it alone.

As one magazine immediately rejected the all-party plan, Labour called on the newspaper industry to "engage" with the new system and said there must be "no press boycott".

The all-party draft's proposals include:

  • A small charge for arbitration - as an alternative to expensive libel courts
  • An opt-out for local and regional newspapers
  • More involvement in decision making for the press and media industry


Getting politicians to agree is only part of the story.

It might even prove to be the easy bit.

Now they need the papers on board, and some of them will take a lot of convincing.

Sceptical titles have a trump card: they could just set up their own regulator by their own rules.

Get that running, think some, and the differences between one version of a Royal Charter and another will look pretty obscure.

So the culture secretary has got a lot of persuading to do.

Fail to get the press onside and the politicians could look pretty weak, and make some powerful enemies.

It comes following a deadlock between the press and politicians over what a new system of self-regulation would look like.

Some in the newspaper industry feared the Westminster proposals would give politicians too much power.

Earlier this week politicians dismissed a rival system proposed by the press, which would have prevented Parliament blocking or approving any future changes to regulation.

And while the culture secretary said the draft charter included "some really important changes" in an attempt to appease the press, she said there would be no movement on how the system could be amended.

The all-party charter states that changes could only be made with a two-thirds majority in Parliament.

The dispute was a "red-line issue" for the newspaper industry, commentators said.

Asked on BBC Radio 4's PM programme if this was up for negotiation, Ms Miller said: "No, that lock has to be in place. I think that's a fundamental way we keep this new system of self-regulation independent of government either now or in the future."

The Spectator Editor Fraser Nelson: The press being regulated by politicians is "like allowing the foxes to regulate the chicken coop"

She added: "I'm very clear that we've published a final draft today but if there are things that come forward which all three parties feel merit attention then of course we'll be looking at that."

There is now likely to be a clash between the press and politicians as some newspapers go it alone and set up their own system of regulation.

The industry steering group - which represents publishers - said the all-party draft proposals were neither "voluntary or independent".

"This remains a charter written by politicians, imposed by politicians and controlled by politicians," it added in a statement.

"It has not been approved by any of the newspapers or magazines it seeks to regulate."

'Don't they understand?'

One magazine - a long-standing opponent of reforming the regulatory system - rejected the draft almost immediately.

"What part of 'no' don't they understand?" wrote Fraser Nelson, editor of the Spectator.

And the Independent's Chris Blackhurst told the BBC the press would not support the Westminster parties' plan.

"They still think it involves politicians overseeing our industry and they don't want that at any price," he said.

"It's a great threat that some newspapers... will try and go it alone."

Chairman of the influential Culture Media and Sport Committee John Whittingdale said: "I think today's announcement may go some way to meeting the objections of some newspapers but I don't think it's likely to be sufficient to command the support of the newspaper industry."

'No boycott'

Campaigners said changes to the draft proposals meant there was no reason for the press to refuse to back the charter.

"The way is now open to create a system of independent, effective press self-regulation that will benefit the public and poses no threat whatever to freedom of expression," said Brian Cathcart from the Hacked Off group.

Sir Brian Leveson's inquiry was set-up following public and political anger at phone-hacking, which culminated in the emergence that the now defunct News of the World had accessed the voicemail messages of murdered teenager Milly Dowler.

Lord Prescott, whose answerphone messages were also intercepted by the tabloid when he was a Labour minister, said he feared the press was deliberately delaying any agreement.

He told the BBC: "I don't think [Daily Mail editor] Mr Dacre or any of those hardliners whose papers committed those offences in the past will actually want to agree.

"I hope I'm wrong but I just feel the Privy Council and the Royal Charter is being used by them... to take a long-term delay and destroy it as they did with the last six inquiries."

Brian Cathcart from Hacked off: "With these further concessions there can be no argument from the press that they should not participate in this"

But Energy Secretary Ed Davey said this time it would be different and the draft protected press freedom.

"In the past they've promised to regulate themselves and they've not done it," the Lib Dem MP told BBC Radio 4's Any Questions.

"We've created an independent process which, on reflection, I hope the press will back."

The agreement came as a result of talks between Ms Miller, Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman and Lib Dem Lord Wallace.

"I hope that the press will engage with this new system of independent self-regulation," Ms Harman said.

"We must have no press boycott. We need a press which is robust and free which holds those in power to account but which does not wreak havoc on the lives of innocent people."

The proposals will be put to the Privy Council - an ancient body which advises the Queen, mostly made up of senior politicians - for final agreement on 30 October.


More on This Story

The Leveson report


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  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    43. mrwobbles
    "There is always the risk that government will use this regulation to censor damaging reporting (MPs expenses)."

    You raise a very good point particularly as it was a newspaper that first broke the expenses scandal as the politicians stubbornly fought against a formal FoI request.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    A month from today, Cameron, Clegg and Miliband will be wearing poppies, cemomorating the sacrifice I've those who died for our freedom, for our right to have an opinion. This is a tragic day when we say it is illegal for someone to merely express their thoughts. We should be ashamed of ourselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    This has nothing to do with Press Freedom, as the Press wants us to believe.

    Its all to do with ending the trash that they peddle, ruining innocent people's lives with their garbage gutter-trollop!

    I wouldn't use their newspapers to wipe my own backside.

    Press freedom isn't freedom to write garbage and lies, on a daily basis, whilst trashing people's reputations and lives, in the process.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    If the press had been doing their jobs properly there would not have been any need for extra regulation. As large parts were flouting the law and destroying peoples lives extra regulation is required. We do not ask other criminals if they agree with new laws so why should we care if the press like these regulations or not. Each paper needs to comply with the laws or they should be shut down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    I am in two minds about this, I don't trust the press to regulate themselves but I don't trust the government to regulate the press either.

    There is always the risk that government will use this regulation to censor damaging reporting (MPs expenses). That said, some elements of the press (phone tapping, paparazzi) are truly disgusting and self regulation has failed to curb these activities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Actually given the printed newspapers are going to die out, it will be perfectly simple to 'print' whatever they like on line, servers based in countries with less, or no regulations. We can all read things on the web government or courts try to keep covered up anyway. Even print could put in these 3d bar codes to take people directly to stories, with a nothing to do with us but look at this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    I watch Leveson at the Select Committee yesterday, the Tories on the committee were pathetic, using a mixture of innuendo and ad hominem attacks. They are clearly running scared of Rupert and Paul, as they fear them, especially in the run up to the next election. As to the Spectator, who cares!

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Can I still say that Milliband acts and looks like Wallace from Wallace and Grommit?

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Certain newspapers are creating a very big storm in a very small tea cup. The issue of press regulation has rumbled on since the 1940's. There have been 3 enquiries. 3 times the press have sulked and threw their toys out of the pram. This time their tantrum won't work. They have time and time again being give chances to put their own house in order and they have spectacularly failed every time!

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Self regulation never works. It is flawed because of conflicts of interest that can never be sorted out, no matter what policies are in place to try to prevent them. Of course, every govt is keen on self-regulation because it is what MPs want FOR THEMSELVES, and the Tories can use it to quietly feather their own nests, and Labour and the other parties can also engage in similar dubious practices.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Why do so many people trust government? The press may have shortfalls, and some behaviour has been woeful, but I'd take their short comings everyday if it keeps those emboldened with power at Westminster on their toes. The press are not a threat to our freedom, it is the encroachment of governments and the power that resides with them that we should be concerned about.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    No matter what news you get or from what source it came from, you can guarantee its either watered down or a biased slant to lead you in the direction they want to lead you. Its got to the stage where you just can't believe what you see or read. It needed a complete overhaul, this was the chance to do it. They failed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Let the press print what they like. Just impose a 1000% VAT rate on newspapers, and a minimum price of 50p. Price them out of business.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Oh good, the beeb have permission to hide stories about atrocities by syrian rebels.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    "Labour called on the newspaper industry to "engage" with the new system and said there must be "no press boycott"."

    Or what? Are they going to go around closing down newspapers like the developing-world tinpot dictators they so clearly long to be? Our politicians are pathetic, sniveling little @#*^s.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    25. "But who watches the watcher?"

    Perfectly valid question. And the answer is: we watch them, same as we do for Ofcom. Complaints have to made public and justified, and if we the electorate get the slightest whiff of suspicion of politically-motivated censorship, it's up to us to punish the politicians at the ballot box.

    On the other hand, Murdoch and Dacre have no accountability whatsoever.

  • Comment number 31.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    I'd be very interested to hear what the Guardian newspaper has to say on this, and then I hope it's the last we hear of Leveson.

    I'm fed up with celebs and politicians moaning and hope they will now all go away (especially Hugh Grant, John Prescott, Helena Kennedy and Tom Watson).

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    And here was me thinking that the only things that the three traitor parties agree on is that the UK is to be turned into a cheap labour, third world dumping ground and that anybody who complained is to be charged with racist "hate" speech.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Anything that gives politicians more power over us has to be resisted - well done the press corps.

    Laws already exist to restrain media excesses, had they been applied we would not have needed Leveson or a Royal Charter.


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