Campaign group Hacked Off is targeting local press editors as the propaganda battle over press regulation hots up.
With press freedom the theme of this year’s Local Newspaper Week, the Newspaper Society is currently highlighting the threat to local papers from the government’s plans for regulation backed by Royal Charter.
But Hacked Off, the lobbying organisation which represents victims of phone hacking, has written to a number of local and regional editors taking issue with the Society’s stance.
The move is being viewed in industry circles as a sign of desperation on the part of the campaign group, with one regional editor claiming it is “rattled.”
The round-robin letter was sent out this week by Brian Cathcart, the executive director of Hacked Off.
He wrote: “You may be concerned that any changes to the press regulation system could make your job harder and put extra burdens on regional and local papers. That’s what the Newspaper Society has been warning.
“I am writing to say that what the Newspaper Society has been telling you is not correct.
“The Royal Charter approved by all parties in Parliament in March is good for working journalists, good for the regional and local press – and good for the public.
“Contrary to what you may have read, it is not true that the Royal Charter opens the floodgates to a torrent of complaints against regional and local papers.”
Mr Cathcart goes on to argue that it is not true that under the Charter system self-regulation would be more expensive for regional and local papers, nor that the Charter scheme gives politicians more control over the press.
On the contrary, he says that it will “open the way for a quick, cheap arbitration service to handle civil legal cases, meaning that papers will be able to defend cases where previously they often could not afford to.”
However the move appears to have done little to change editors’ minds over the issue.
Oxford Mail editor Simon O’Neill tweeted: “Hacked Off now writing to individual regional editors attacking Newspaper Society stance on press regulation. Must be rattled.”
He wrote: “Your assertion that what is being mooted will not have a significant impact on the newspaper medium I work in is false. Already, as an editor I have experienced a rise in spurious complaints, calls for compensation and unsubstantiated criticism from people fairly named in stories in my newspaper.
“This has included people convicted of criminal acts in court ‘demanding’ that their rights are being breached by fair and proper court reporting. I deal with their complaints politely and fairly but this is the environment that newspapers are now having to work in, fuelled by the mistruths organisations like your own have put in the public domain.
“The Newspaper Society is entirely right, in my very humble opinion, to make as strong a case as it can and if you feel they are acting without integrity and issuing mistruths you are fully entitled to your opinion, but I for one am glad of the robust campaign they are mounting and trust the veracity of their argument.”
A spokesman for the Newspaper Society said it was aware of the letter but declined to comment.
The Newspaper Society and other industry groups have put forward an alternative Royal Charter proposal which they say is independent of politicians.