UK

Press regulation watchdog 'could take a year to set up'

  • 31 October 2013
  • From the section UK
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Image caption Some of the press have vowed to continue the fight against the Royal Charter

It could take up to a year to set up the body responsible for overseeing a new press regulator, the culture secretary has told MPs.

Earlier, Maria Miller said the Royal Charter signed on Wednesday was the best way forward for press regulation.

However, newspapers have vowed to continue to fight the new system.

Labour MP Chris Bryant called Ms Miller's acknowledgement that it would take between six and 12 months to set up the recognition panel "pathetic".

Mr Bryant, who was awarded damages after his phone was hacked by the News of the World, had asked Ms Miller when "the body will be set up that will regulate the body that is going to be doing the regulating".

Ms Miller responded that the panel would be set up "in the next six to 12 months".

'Best way'

Mr Bryant later took to Twitter to criticise that statement, saying: "12 months! Maria Miller says the recognising body for press self regulation will take up to 12 months to be set up. Far too long! Pathetic."

The new Royal Charter, which was officially approved by the Privy Council on Wednesday, establishes the recognition body that is intended to oversee a powerful new press regulator with the power to levy fines of up to £1m.

Ms Miller said of the Royal Charter: "I believe we've got here a way forward, which will both safeguard the freedom of the press and also make sure we've got a good system of redress in place for those where errors and mistakes are made.

"I think it's important we do make this royal charter work and it's the best way, I believe, to stave off the statutory regulation of the press that some are trying to impose."

However, Conservative John Whittingdale, who is chairman of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, told Ms Miller that while the "end of press freedom has no serious justification" the charter did allow for that possibility.

"Will you accept that the ability of Parliament to have a say on the rules under which the press regulator operates, even by a two-thirds majority which you know has no constitutional validity, that does allow that claim to be made?" he added.

"If it is that that stops some newspapers joining, will you at this late stage consider alternative safeguards?"

'Mexican stand-off'

Most newspapers have opposed the Royal Charter, citing concerns that it would lead to political interference in the freedom of the press.

Court of Appeal judges denied newspaper publishers a last-minute injunction to stop ministers seeking the approval for the charter.

The publishers had argued that their alternative proposals had not been properly considered.

Industry sources have said they are currently taking legal advice and it is likely they will lodge an appeal.

Newspaper Society president Adrian Jeakings told the Newspaper Conference annual lunch that regional and local papers "will not be signing up".

"We firmly believe that by establishing a tough new self-regulatory scheme under the Independent Press Standards Organisation, together with other news and magazine publishers from across the press, we can guarantee the public the protection it deserves whilst ensuring that the press remains truly free, and unfettered by political interference," he said.

In a leader article following Wednesday's ruling, the Times said: "Now all British national and regional publishers will press ahead with setting up their own regulator and will not seek recognition from this flawed Royal Charter."

It continued: "There is now the prospect that press regulation will become a Mexican stand-off in which no authority is recognised.

"Or that two parallel systems will run, one with the imprimatur of the Royal Charter and one without.

"Either way, it is a mess entirely of the making of a political class that seeks control of an unruly press."

The Daily Mail condemned the latest developments as a "judicial farce".

The Daily Telegraph said it would not endorse the charter, claiming it allowed the possibility "that politicians could conspire to attack the press".

"If Parliament can find the numbers to impose a Royal Charter upon the industry, it can also find the numbers necessary to censor it," it said in a leader article.

The Sun, in its leader article, said: "More than three centuries of press freedom were signed away by men and women behind closed doors.

"A last-minute legal challenge by the newspaper industry on the grounds the Privy Council's actions were unfair and unlawful was rejected by the High Court.

"The process has more in common with tyranny than a nation that founded parliamentary government."

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