Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, has urged newspaper owners to have a bit of perspective and recognise they are simply being asked to set up a system of self-regulation that can be overseen every three years by an independent body.
He was speaking as private inter-party talks continued over adjusting the royal charter passed by parliament in March to reassure a newspaper industry that has vowed to boycott a system of regulation it believes will constrain its freedom.
The deputy prime minister’s remarks on LBC’s Call Clegg suggest he is happy to accept a further short delay to see if changes can be made, but will not compromise over the central issue of an outside body monitoring the work of the industry’s regulator to ensure it is working effectively.
The final royal charter setting up the system of regulation is due to be sealed at a special meeting of the privy council on 30 October.
Clegg urged a sense of perspective about what was being proposed. He said: “You need self-regulation. In other words, the press should be free to establish arrangements where if someone wants to complain, or wants to demand an apology, or there’s been basically just an abuse of their privacy, that there’s a right to recourse.
“And what he [Lord Leveson] said is those arrangements, those self-regulatory arrangements, need to be properly checked for their independence, because of course what happened in the past was in those self-regulatory arrangements it was all a bit of a cosy club, where they were judge and jury. So that’s the heart of the Leveson recommendations.
“And where there’s dispute – it gets very, very techy – is how you establish the body which will, every three years I think it is, check whether these independent self-regulatory arrangements really are indeed independent or not.”
The independent body, he said, would provide an MOT every three years to certify whether the self-regulation was independent and functioning effectively. He said: “That is what Leveson recommended should be set up. That is what all political parties and the Commons overwhelmingly backed in March and that is what we are inching towards.”
Clegg said he was determined to protect the “uniquely raucous press” in Britain from interference from politicians.
“Anything which puts regulation of our wonderfully raucous, in fact uniquely raucous press in the hands of politicians and governments would be an absolute disaster. I’m an old-fashioned liberal. Regardless of what the press ever say about me, I’ll always defend their right to my last breath to say disobliging things about people in power and keep people in power, in particular, on their toes. That’s what a free society’s all about.”
He described as “a complete nonsense” and a myth the idea that a late-night meeting in March between politicians and the Hacked Off victims’ group had created the deal. Maria Miller, the culture secretary, admitted this week that the appearance of the meeting had been unfortunate, as some had come to portray it as critical and press representatives had not been present. He said two minuscule issues were settled at the meeting.
“A mythology has attached itself to what happened on that Sunday evening. This wasn’t some great tablet of stone which was drafted. There had been far more meetings, actually, with the press in Downing Street and in Whitehall in the weeks preceding that which in a sense had settled the vast majority of issues; there were a couple of outstanding issues which were focused on that evening. It’s a complete nonsense, this idea that something was cooked up and that the press were not involved.”