BBC News

Press regulation - what happened to it?

Nick Robinson
Political editor

image copyrightPA

When David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg agreed their approach to a new system of press self regulation in March few thought we would be no closer to achieving it by the Summer.

Now it is clear that they will make no further progress until the Autumn at the earliest.

There has been a stand-off between the press and politicians ever since Lord Justice Leveson published his report into the phone hacking scandal. The all party agreement proposed a Royal Charter - like that which established the BBC, many universities and hundreds of other public bodies. However, the newspaper industry rejected it and submitted its own rival Royal Charter.

Ministers have concluded that under what Whitehall insiders describe as the "archaic" procedures of the Privy Council - the body which formally advises the Queen - the industry's proposal must be considered first. What's more they've been advised that to simply reject it without due consideration could lead to lengthy legal action.

Thus when the Privy Council meets next Wednesday it will not consider the idea backed by all three party leaders. Since the next meeting will not be until after parliament's long summer recess there is no chance of that happening for many months.

Victims of press abuse will be bitterly disappointed. JK Rowling, Kate and Gerry McCann, Christopher Jeffries are amongst those who have written to the Culture Secretary Maria Miller to urge her to press ahead and defy what they call "a tiny if powerful vested interest" which is challenging "the democratic will of Parliament".

She will tell the campaigning group Hacked Off at a meeting this afternoon that the government is still committed to its charter.

However, some will see this as further proof that the press are simply playing for time in the hope that no party leader will want to confront them in the months running up to a general election. Ministers are frustrated that the industry has not used the time they've had to get their own proposals for a new system of self regulation up and running.

Public appetite for this argument appears pretty limited at the moment - something which may be encouraging the newspapers to drag their feet.

However, when coverage of Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks in court begins this Autumn the question is likely to be asked - regardless of the verdict in their cases - whatever happened to the promise of a new system of press regulation which would stop abuses like phone hacking happening again?