Posted by Josh Halliday guardian.co.uk, Thursday 28 February 2013
The National Union of Journalists has accused the government of concocting “secret backdoor deals" with the newspaper industry and excluding the public from talks about establishing a new press regulator. The union said it was concerned that Downing Street was conspiring with newspaper owners to produce a regulator heavily controlled by publishers. In a sharply worded statement, the NUJ general secretary, Michelle Stanistreet, accused David Cameron of reneging on promises made to Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry into press standards.
“This is more evidence that we cannot trust David Cameron – we already knew we couldn't trust the newspaper publishers," said Stanistreet.
The NUJ is the latest group to complain about being excluded from talks to establish a reconstituted press regulator. Earlier this week, the lobbying group for victims of press intrusion, Hacked Off, charged the government and newspaper proprietors with perpetrating a “disgraceful stitch-up" over the discussions.
Conservative plans for a verification body set up by royal charter to be empowered to recognise an independent press regulator have hit a deadlock following inter-party talks earlier this month.
Stanistreet said excluding journalists, members of the public and phone-hacking victims from the talks would produce a regulator doomed to the same ineffectiveness as the Press Complaints Commission it is intended to replace.
She added: “They have gone back on their promises to pick up the Leveson recommendations, generally seen as moderate and proportionate, and have conspired together to offer a solution that ignores journalists, excludes the public and the victims of phone hacking and serves only the interests of publishers.
“Journalists want a vibrant lively newspaper industry; this dirty deal will never lead to that."
The NUJ attack came as a leading constitutional lawyer, Lord Pannick QC, warned that plans for a new press regulator backed by royal charter would “confer considerable power on ministers" and provide no protection against future political intervention.
In an opinion commissioned by the newspaper industry, Pannick endorsed the press proposal for a charitable trust to establish a recognition body for the new regulator. He said this would safeguard against future political interference.
Pannick said bodies incorporated by royal charter surrender significant aspects of their internal affairs to ministers via the privy council, which formally grants royal charters.
The exercise of such powers by ministers would be subject to judicial review, Pannick said, but he added: “It is difficult in practice to envisage a court intervening were ministers to decide to change the substantive arrangements."
The emergence of his opinion on the royal charter plan comes a week after he and two other leading QCs, Desmond Browne and Antony White, described proposals to punish newspapers with huge fines as unlawful and “objectionable in principle". That opinion was also commissioned by the newspaper industry.