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Press regulation by Royal Charter is a cop out and doomed to failure

14 February 2013

The NUJ has condemned the Conservative Party's attempt to introduce the Leveson recommendations on press regulation through a royal charter as pointless and doomed to failure.

The charter is a sell-out to the press proprietors because it fails to take on board many of the recommendations made in the Leveson report. The union believes that it is entirely driven by the newspaper industry and that the Prime Minister has completely abandoned his promise to phone hacking victims by doing what his masters in the national press require of him.

The NUJ has also condemned the Industry Implementation Group representing newspaper and magazine publishers, which has been given the task of implementing Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations, for freezing out the union and the journalists it represents.

The  Conservative Party's plan, to give power to a body called the Recognition Panel through a charter rather than through statutory underpinning, is a clear attempt to let the press barons off the hook and return to their traditional methods of 'marking their own homework'. The panel would be under the control of the Privy Council, a group of senior politicians without the oversight of parliament, requiring a complex set of rules to be built into the charter.

The information note on the charter, posted on the website of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, explains that organisations such as universities, the Scout Association and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds are organisations incorporated via Royal Charter.

The Leveson Report said that a recognition body was required to ensure that any press self-regulator was "satisfactory" and fulfilled the requirements that all parties have agreed it needs. Crucially, Leveson said, the new panel should recognise only a press regulator that had all the national press and most of the rest as members, yet this is not binding on the new recognition panel.

Nor need the new panel insist that the regulator should apply a number of the other recommendations Leveson calls for including taking complaints from all, a need to apply evidence for a public interest defence and protections from their employers through a conscience clause.

The NUJ believes that any regulator that does not cover all the key areas of the press and all the national newspapers will be doomed to fail.  It also condemns the charter for failing to insist on protections for journalists, protections that even Rupert Murdoch had agreed were a good idea when he gave evidence to Leveson. The charter also fails to include Leveson's recommendation that complaints should be allowed from all-comers, a view the NUJ also supported.

This charter is a major reversal for David Cameron who had told the Leveson Inquiry that he supported compulsory membership and later said he supported protections for journalists. Now he has changed his position to support the policy being pursued by the newspaper publishers.

Professor Chris Frost, chair of the NUJ's Ethics Council, condemned the charter as a sell-out.

"The Conservative Party has turned the Prime Minister's promises on their head in order to appease his friends in big business. David Cameron has completely ignored the key recommendations made by Leveson and, in doing so, has failed the victims of phone hacking, failed thousands of working journalists who are doing an important job incredibly well and deserve the support of a true regulator and failed the general public who deserve a press in which they can have some trust."

The Royal Charter idea, as set out by the Conservatives, has not been supported by the Liberal Democrats or Labour Party.

Tags: , Leveson, royal charter, regulation, ethics, parliament uk