By James Kirkup, Political Editor10:08PM GMT 29 Oct 2013
Downing Street has refused to disclose the names of ministers who will on Wednesday take the final step in a plan to impose new rules on the Press.
Ministers on the Privy Council will on Wednesday advise the Queen to grant a Royal Charter to a new set of rules for journalists that was written by politicians and media campaigners.
Sources said that Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, is expected to chair the meeting of the council at Buckingham Palace.
But the Government refused to say which other ministers will attend. The meeting is the Government’s attempt to end debate over Press regulation following last year’s Leveson Inquiry into wrongdoing by tabloid journalists.
The Privy Council will meet on the day the phone hacking trial of Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson is due to hear the opening evidence. The phone hacking row triggered the debate over regulation of the press.
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On Tuesday, police were accused of having a “blasé” attitude towards the freedom of the press after officers warned a news vendor about the potential implications of selling the latest edition of Private Eye magazine on the grounds that a joke on the front cover could prejudice the trial.
The Attorney General later ruled that the joke, which appeared to describe Mrs Brooks as a witch, did not warrant action against the magazine.
The new regulatory regime has been strongly criticised by the newspaper industry and by civil liberties campaigners, who say the prospect of politicians forcing their own rules on journalists poses a threat to free speech.
The politicians have proposed a system of regulation underpinned by statute law, compelling newspapers to submit to the new regime. Publications that refuse to participate will be faced with “exemplary” damages in the event of libel cases.
By contrast, the industry proposed a system of regulation independent of the state.
The industry plan would expose newspapers to £1 million fines and was described as the toughest regulatory regime in the free world.
However, it was rejected by ministers sitting on the Privy Council, a decision that the industry has sought to challenge at the High Court.
Government spokesmen said that attendance at council meetings is never disclosed in advance. Minutes of the meeting and the names of those attending will be published afterwards, they said.
On the eve of the meeting, another free speech group called on politicians not to go ahead with their plan.
Article 19, an international human rights organisation, said the meeting should be postponed. Pushing ahead in the face of opposition from the industry risks creating a “dysfunctional and damaging” regulatory regime, the group said.
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