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Hacked Off urges regional press to back Royal Charter

Lobby group Hacked Off is launching a major drive to persuade local and regional press bosses to back the government’s proposed Royal Charter on press regulation in preference to the newspaper industry version.

National and local publishers are proposing to set up an Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) as an alternative to the cross party plans agreed with Hacked Off earlier this year.

But some local publishers have voiced concerns about their level of representation on IPSO and none has yet formally committed to join it

Now Hacked Off have written to chief executives of local and regional press groups arguing that they would be worse off financially if they joined IPSO than if they backed the government’s plan.

The initiative is certain to be seen as an attempt to scupper the industry’s efforts to present a united front on press regulation by dividing the regional press from the national newspaper publishers.

However it has already received a dusty response from Ian Murray, editor of the Southern Daily Echo and the current president of the Society of Editors.

Ian told HTFP:  “The document from Hacked Off says nothing new, nor does it address the fundamental issues at stake here: a press free from political interference. That freedom is as important for the regional press as it is for national publishers and titles.

“This is yet another attempt to bribe regional titles and groups to split from national papers, as such it is shameful but acts as a beacon to illuminate Hacked Off’s ultimate goal to divide and conquer for its own interests.

“The Royal Charter was created by politicians to control the press, will be influenced by political appointees and was cobbled together under pressure from and in the presence of Hacked Off.

“The industry has come forward with its own proposal for self-regulation in keeping with the Leveson report and, unlike the Royal Charter, carries the support of the industry, something Sir Brian Leveson considered paramount in his recommendations.”

Hacked Off claims the government Royal Charter has been subjected to “relentless negative propaganda” by national newspapers and attempts to refute claims that it will cost regional publishers more.

In the letter to local press chiefs, the group’s chairman Hugh Tomlinson QC said there were “serious disadvantages” for regional publishers in joining IPSO and claimed it was “structurally biased” against smaller publishers.

“You are more likely to be fined than well-resourced publishers as they will be better able to thwart investigations. And you won’t benefit from costs protections in court because you will have denied litigants the option to access arbitration,” he wrote.

“In any case, IPSO will not command public trust, which is essential for all functioning regulators.”

A booklet accompanying the letter highlights a series of what Hacked Off sees as the advantages of the government Royal Charter.

They including reducing regulatory costs for regional and local newspapers that have a good record of abiding by the law and by the industry standards code, and giving regional and local newspapers the opportunity and influence to help shape the new system in ways that will suit them.

It says:  “There is no reason to believe that a new self-regulator will be more expensive, and if the ‘polluter pays’ principle is applied regional and local publishers should end up paying much less.”

By contrast, the booklet claims IPSO will cost regionals and locals more than the Press Complaints Commission while giving them less influence, arguing that voting power in IPSO is fixed in favour of the big national groups.

Speaking at the Society of Editors conference earlier this month, Sunday Post editor of former SoE president Donald Martin called for greater representation for the regional press on IPSO.

He said his paper’s publisher DC Thomson was still considering whether or not to join the new body.

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