Press regulation debate nears final reckoning | Media

The marathon battle to introduce a new system of press regulation will come to a head on 9 October when the privy council is due to decide whether to seal a royal charter enshrining the industry’s preferred system of self-regulation.

Lord Justice Leveson, author of last year’s major report on press regulation, will break his post-publication silence on the issue and give evidence to the all-party culture select committee the following day.

A privy council sub-committee examined the issue in the summer. Advocates of the alternative all-party charter supported by parliament in the spring are hoping the industry’s charter will be rejected.

In a letter sent by David Cameron to victims of press harassment and released on Friday, the prime minister states he still believes the industry’s system of self-regulation has serious shortcomings. He also insists the government is following the proper procedure, in line with the usual privy council processes.

Cameron says the privy council sub-committee – including four Liberal Democrat and four Tory ministers – will look at the charter prepared by the industry body, the Press Standards Board of Finance (PressBof), “in a manner consistent with delivering a robust and justifiable decision in advance of any decisions to submit the cross party charter to the privy council.

Supporters of the cross-party charter believe that if the sub-committee rejects the industry charter then the privy council should simply seal the cross-party version on 9 October. But the history of government efforts to create a consensus on press regulation suggests there may yet be further delay.

Cameron’s letter says he “continues to support implementing the system of tough independent self regulation that Lord Justice Leveson recommended, which will protect a free press as well as provide appropriate redress for the public especially victims of press abuse”.

He adds that if the industry intended to apply for recognition as the self-regulator for the industry, it would have to apply to the state-backed recognition panel, and it will be for the industry “to ensure that the self-regulator complies with the appropriate criteria at the time of that application, and for the recognition panel to assess this”.

If the cross-party royal charter is sealed, a fully independent recognition panel would be established, capable of giving approval to a press self-regulator that would meet specified Leveson standards.

Some newspaper groups are planning a self-regulator called Ipso, but Hacked Off, which campaigns for victims of press intrusion, claims the newspaper groups “have no intention of making it meet those standards or even putting it forward for recognition, because they do not want to be accountable for their actions. Their arrogant line is that we, the public, should like it or lump it: that is the impasse they want us to see”.

The differences in the two charters focus on the independence of the regulator and the need for arbitration. The eight-strong privy council sub-committee is chaired by Maria Miller, the Conservative culture secretary, and Danny Alexander, the Liberal Democrat chief secretary to the Treasury.

Other Tory members include Dominic Grieve, the attorney general; Chris Grayling, the lord chancellor; and Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister.

Remaining Lib Dem members are Michael Moore, the Scottish secretary; Lord McNally, the justice minister; and Lord Wallace of Tankerness, who led the Lib Dems’ negotiations over implementing the Leveson review.

Cameron will fear a backlash from rightwing newspaper proprietors if he supports the all-party charter. But he will also be aware that senior News International executives are due to stand trial at the end of October over their involvement in phone hacking. These trials may revive interest in how the government has responded to evidence of wrongdoing by some newspaper groups.

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Press regulation · Newspapers & magazines · Leveson report · Leveson inquiry · Newspapers · Privacy & the media
Judicial committee of the privy council
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