Press regulation royal charter delayed by ministers

Copy of the News of the World
Image caption Press regulation faced intense scrutiny after the phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World

Cross-party proposals for a royal charter to underpin press regulation following the Leveson report are to be delayed, Downing Street has said.

The Privy Council was due to consider the plans on 15 May but it will now first consider separate plans proposed by some newspapers for self-regulation with a lesser role for the state.

Government sources said the council's rules meant it could not consider two proposals at the same time.

The industry welcomed the announcement.

'Period of openness'

Its proposals are open for comment on the Privy Council website until 23 May.

The Privy Council will then consider these proposals, which are backed by most but not all newspapers, and consider the plans agreed by the political parties later.

Government sources told BBC deputy political editor James Landale that the Privy Council would hold "a period of openness" for three weeks to allow the public to comment before deciding whether to hold a full eight-week consultation over the newspapers' plans.

They said it meant the cross-party plans were more likely to be considered by the council in either June or July.

The sources said the move effectively gave all sides more time to consider the various plans - in particular, giving newspapers more time to see if they could all agree on a position, and the chance to try to persuade Labour and the Liberal Democrats to support their plan.

They said the decision did not mean the government was giving up on a cross-party royal charter.

'Public support'

There are a number of key differences between the industry's plan for press regulation for England and Wales and that agreed by politicians and campaigners. The newspapers' proposal would:

  • Remove Parliament's power to block or approve future changes to regulation. Instead the regulator, trade bodies and a newly created "recognition panel" would have to agree to changes
  • Would see the chairman/woman and members of the panel selected by an appointments committee chaired by a retired Supreme Court judge, and include one representative of the industry's interests, one member representing the public interest, and one public appointments assessor nominated by the Commissioner for Public Appointments for England and Wales
  • Remove a ban on former editors sitting on the panel
  • Give newspaper and magazine readers a say on the industry's proposals for regulation
  • Make it more difficult to bring group complaints
  • Amend the power of the regulator to "direct" the nature, extent and placement of corrections and apologies, saying it should "require" rather than "direct"

Newspaper bosses have said their proposals would introduce a rigorous system of regulation but keep the press free from state interference.

In a statement in response to the latest announcement, they said: "We have always said the independent royal charter would be open to consultation and are confident it will receive the widespread public support shown in opinion polls.

"It already has the backing of the vast majority of the newspaper and magazine industry."

These proposals are supported by most of the country's national, regional and local newspapers and magazines.

The Guardian and the Independent are the only two national newspaper titles out of 11 that have not signed up.

It has been supported by some politicians, including London Mayor Boris Johnson and Commons culture committee chairman John Whittingdale.

Campaign group Hacked Off has accused the industry of "unilaterally rejecting" the findings of the Leveson Inquiry.

It said it believed the government had agreed to the delay to avoid the potential of facing a judicial review brought by the newspapers.

The group's associate director, Evan Harris, said "another delay for a further month... can be borne".

But he added: "All three party leaders promised the victims of press abuse that they would deliver a system which would meet the standards laid down by the Leveson Report.

"Victims expect all of the parties to stand by their leaders' promises."

The Leveson inquiry was set up to investigate press ethics and standards in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World.

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