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NUJ opposes publishers’ royal charter

24 May 2013

The NUJ has opposed the publishers' royal charter for a press regulator, calling it a threat to press freedom by allowing too much power in the hands of a small number of commercially-driven organisations.

In its submission to the Culture Secretary Maria Miller, the NUJ sets out why the press industry's royal charter must not be adopted because it flies in the face of the spirit of Lord Leveson's recommendation for an organisation independent of the industry.

It attempts to protect the interests of the newspaper proprietors and editors and if adopted will be essentially a Press Complaints Commission Mark II – the organisation that refused to acknowledge the illegal practices within the industry which led to the Leveson Inquiry.

The Culture Secretary is holding a consultation on whether the press industry's royal charter, which has been submitted as a rival to the charter voted for by Parliament, meets the relevant criteria. The NUJ does not believe a royal charter is the best way to set up authority for a press regulator, but gave the original charter guarded support after cross-party agreement was reached.

The publishers' charter excludes journalists from the whole of the publishers' regulatory process, despite their obvious importance in news-gathering. There is no mention of a conscience clause, the proposed mechanism to allow journalists to refuse unethical assignments without penalty. Editors and publishers told Lord Justice Leveson that they were not opposed to a conscience clause.

The NUJ submission says:

"The alternate charter removes the obligation to offer an arbitration system, run under the auspices of the regulator set out in the Crime and Courts Act 2013. The NUJ believes this attempt to drop the arbitration system is a sign of contempt for both the public and parliament from UK publishers.
"They are not prepared to accept their past bad behaviour; they have little intention of behaving better in the future and they will continue to put profit before ethics."

The NUJ does not believe that Pressbof represents the "members of a unique profession" – a criteria for setting up a royal charter – it is an organisation put together by a group of employers. The NUJ represents thousands of working journalists and is the majority representative of journalists and journalism in the UK.

The NUJ believes the publishers' charter will be doomed to failure because it removes the requirement to:

  • Offer advice to the public on issues concerning the press and the standards code;
  • Provide a service to warn the press when an individual has made it clear that they do not welcome press intrusion;
  • Ensure subscribers are held accountable for any material that they publish;
  • Provide non-binding guidance on the interpretation of the public interest;
  • Create a whistleblowing hotline for those who feel that they are being asked to do things which are contrary to the standards code;
  • Have the power to direct remedial action including a correction and an apology;
  • Direct the nature, extent and placement of corrections and apologies, where there is no agreement between subscriber and complainant;
  • Ring-fence an enforcement fund to be used for investigations;
  • Provide an arbitration process.

Chris Frost, chair of the NUJ's Ethics Council, said:

"This is about going back to the bad old days where the press is being regulated by the boys' own club of media moguls and their editors. The press will still be marking their own homework if journalists and organisations representing the public are excluded.
"The NUJ is confident that none of the editorials in the papers supporting this charter have ever suggested that banking regulation should be arranged by bankers or that criminal law will only work if approved by criminals."

Tags: , leveson, royal charter, pressbof, regulation