Support was growing today for the alternative system of press self-regulation unveiled by industry leaders as an alternative to the government’s plans.
Regional newspaper publishers have teamed up with nationals to draw up a new Royal Charter for press regulation, saying the version published by the government on March 18 was “unworkable.”
In a joint statement with other industry publishing bodies, the Newspaper Society says its alternative proposals will provide tough self-regulation without the need for legal and political interference.
The move came after it emerged that council newspapers – the so-called Town Hall Pravdas – will be exempt from the government’s plans.
Former journalist and London Mayor Boris Johnson has already Tweeted his support for the industry plan, saying it “keeps best of Leveson but free from political interference.”
And in an interview with the West Sussex County Times, UKIP leader Nigel Farage said he was opposed to the government’s plans as it could put local and regional papers “out of the game”.
“I am mortified that in a smoke filled room in Westminster at half past two in the morning the Lib Dem and Labour agenda was agreed to by David Cameron and we’re heading towards state regulation of the press, and what we know with all forms of state regulation is that it becomes costly bureaucratic and effectively puts out of the game many of the smaller and medium sized players,” he said.
“I am very worried about it, and I don’t like it one bit.”
Unveiling the alternative plan, the NS said: “This initiative by the UK’s national, regional and magazine publishers completely accepts the need for a new regulator to be recognised by a genuinely independent body – which was a central conclusion of the Leveson Inquiry – and aims to help move the debate about the future regulation of the press to a constructive conclusion.
“Importantly, there will be a public consultation on the industry’s proposals giving newspaper and magazine readers the chance to have their say – a consultation that the government has refused for its state-sponsored scheme.
“It is a workable, practical way swiftly to deliver the Leveson recommendations, which the industry accepts, without any form of state-sponsored regulation that would endanger freedom of speech. It has widespread backing across the industry.”
The NS initiative has been welcomed by the Society of Editors which warned the government against imposing a new system of regulation on the industry.
Its executive director Bob Satchwell said: “Any self-regulatory system, which is what Leveson recommended, has to be capable of earning the respect of the public and of the industry.
“It must of course be independent and have strengthened powers to meet the Leveson criteria but it cannot be simply imposed on the industry without any involvement in the way it is set up.
“Hacked Off and other opponents simply missed the point that the press is not just one publishing company or, indeed, national papers. It includes 1100 regional papers and hundreds of magazines which had nothing to answer for and which the inquiry praised as a vital public service. ”
“Parts of Lord Leveson’s report made very uncomfortable reading – the phone hacking, the hounding of the McCanns and bribes to public officials,” he wrote.
“But the regional press was in no way part of this. It was singled out for its contribution to local life, which he said was “truly without parallel”. It had adopted a different standard.
“Politicians must accept this compromise solution or they will be culpable in threatening not least a regional press which millions of people rely on for news that is clear, truthful and unhindered by the vested interests.”
Under the NS proposal, the regulator will have the power to impose fines of up to £1million – as suggested by Leveson – but only for “systematic” wrongdoing.
It would be composed of a majority of independent members to ensure neither the industry nor politicians have too much sway.
The Newspaper Society claims this new version will provide a system of regulation which is “tougher than anywhere else in the western world – which will be of real benefit to the public, at the same time as protecting freedom of speech.”
It emerged yesterday that the government’s plans will exempt council newspapers such as East End Life along with online-only bloggers and charity newsletters.