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Labour: Conservative royal charter ‘dilutes' Leveson

Posted by BBC News wweb site

Conservative proposals for a new press regulator backed by royal charter “do not implement the Leveson report", Labour has said. On Tuesday the Conservatives set out their plans for a regulator with a royal charter supervised by a “recognition panel". Labour's Harriet Harman said the plan, as it stands, would “dilute" what Lord Justice Leveson had recommended. Ministers insisted the regulatory system would be “tough" and effective.

In November the report on press standards by Lord Justice Leveson, commissioned in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal, recommended an independent, self-regulatory watchdog for the press that would be backed by legislation.

This has been backed by the Liberal Democrats and Labour, although both parties have indicated they are willing to discuss other options.

Prime Minister David Cameron said he did not believe a bill was necessary to set up the new regime and, instead, the Conservatives say a royal charter is the right way to provide legal backing for any new press regulator.

Royal charters are formal documents that have been used to establish and lay out the terms of organisations, including the BBC and the Bank of England, and cannot be changed without government approval.

Shadow culture secretary Harriet Harman told MPs that Labour had been engaging in cross-party talks on how best to implement the report in “good faith", but added: “What Leveson proposes is fair and is reasonable, it protects free speech and protects people from abuse and harassment by the press."There can be no justification for watering it down. “The most straightforward way of implementing Leveson is by statute rather than by Royal Charter and statute, but whatever the route that is chosen it must be the full Leveson not Leveson lite."

She raised concerns about the possibility of government ministers being able to tamper with the royal charter through the Privy Council at any time and urged clauses in statute providing this could not happen.

Under the Conservative plans, the charter could only be amended by the recognition body if the leaders of the three main political parties in the House of Commons agreed and any changes were approved in Parliament. If the Privy Council wanted to make changes to the charter it would not have to get the approval of the leaders of the three main political parties.

Ms Harman also sought assurances that the Conservatives would amend the charter to remove the involvement of the press industry in appointing members of the independent board.

The Conservatives want the new independent self-regulatory body to be governed by a board which would be set up “without any direction from industry or influence from government".

They say the board will be mostly made up of people who are independent of the press, but would include a sufficient number of people with experience of the industry such as former editors and senior or academic journalists. Serving editors, current MPs or government ministers would be excluded.

Culture Secretary Maria Miller told MPs the Conservative plan was “tough regulation, a tough package and delivers the principles of Leveson" and added: “We continue to have grave reservations around statutory underpinning and as such we have concerns about implementing a press Bill." The royal charter she maintained “reflects a principled way forward, proposed by the Conservatives from this side of the coalition and we're clear that it is a workable solution". “It would see the toughest press regulation this country has ever seen without compromising press freedom."

But she added “it is only a draft and we will continue to debate it as part of the cross-party talks and we will continue to seek to secure agreement". “We are all committed to the Leveson principles - this is about taking the Leveson Report forward and making sure that it will work in practice and the challenge before all of us is to find an agreement, I think the victims deserve nothing less."

DATELINE: 13 February, 2013


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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 believe 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.

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

Posted by: Barry White (NUJ news release): 14 Feb, 2013 16:57:53

Back to Methusalah…with the Black/Hunt gang

15 February 2013 - A free (and pluralist) press is one of the key guarantors of open democracy. An all-powerful press that holds politicians in its thrall is inimical to both freedom and democracy. Post-Leveson it would seem that key players in the press still hold all the cards. Cameron has reneged on his pledge to implement the good Lord’s recommendations, preferring instead Oliver Letwin’s clever wheeze of a Royal Charter, an option favoured by the press faction led by the ‘PCC peers’ Lords Black and Hunt over admirable alternatives like Hacked-Off’s Media Freedom and Regulatory Standards Bill.

The Charter will establish a body to ‘recognise’ whatever system of self-regulation the Black/Hunt faction deem appropriate. This might even involve different bodies for different types of publications – making life just a little more confusing for those who may need to complain about press misbehaviour in the future. We might have one body for magazines, another for the dwindling band of local papers, and another for the nationals. Who knows? Black and Hunt have been conducting their negotiations behind closed doors in time-honoured tradition. As with the election of a new Pope, mere mortals are not supposed to know how such decisions are reached until the white smoke emerges.

While it might be compelling to regard newspaper and media proprietors as oppressive barons riding roughshod over the rights of the common people in pursuit of profit, surely we deserve something more than a medieval solution to the abuses of power revealed during the Leveson inquiry hearings. And it is adding insult to injury that these self-same barons continue to insist that they should decide their own fate. We live in a democracy, chaps, and no-one elected you to your exalted positions.

Even so, the Royal Charter is not quite what it purports to be. Look closely and you see it is far from clear of political influence. The main movers and shakers behind the scenes will be Privy Councillors – those senior politicians of all persuasions who are trusted to advise the monarch – and the Recognition Panel will have to apply to a government minister for funds.

Meanwhile the Black/Hunt faction is fashioning PCC Mark III in camera, and it is possible additional legislation may be needed to ensure that the whole caboodle works properly. The petulance witnessed when editors gave evidence to Leveson is still evident. Despite being caught cheating they still want us to play with their ball, rather than accept that elected representatives have a duty to respond to the anxieties of the electorate and consult openly with the public about what sort of system of redress should be put in place. Remember, no-one has suggested that editors should be told what to publish – merely to agree a procedure for redress when they break their own rules. Why are they so afraid of negotiating with their critics, all of whom favour good journalism and a measure of accountability and transparency? Wouldn’t that be evidence of a mature democracy?

Hiding behind an archaic formulation to protect their ‘so-called’ integrity does not suggest we have a mature democracy, but then nor does Cameron’s cave in.

In the end Leveson’s recommendations, problematic though some remain, are about protecting the public interest in trustworthy and accountable journalism. If it takes legislation to ensure that powerful business, political and police interests do not come before those of the general public, so be it.

Mike Jempson
Director, MediaWise

Posted by: Mike Jempson: 16 Feb, 2013 14:36:06

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