Newspaper industry bosses today reacted angrily to the government’s rejection of their plans for a new independent press regulator.
Culture secretary Maria Miller told MPs yesterday that a sub-committee of the Privy Council has thrown out the industry’s proposals for a Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) established by Royal Charter.
Ministers now want to implement a watered-down version of the original Royal Charter proposals agreed between the three main political parties and campaign group Hacked Off earlier this year.
However the attempts at compromise risk pleasing no-one with both the industry and campaign group Hacked Off attacking Ms Miller over the decision.
The industry steering group which includes the Newspaper Society as representatives of the regional press expressed deep disappointment with yesterday’s Commons announcement.
It said in a statement: “We are deeply disappointed that the Privy Council sub committee has rejected our Charter proposal which set out criteria for tough and independent self-regulation with the support of virtually all of the newspaper and magazine industry.
“In his report, Lord Justice Leveson said: “What is required is independent self-regulation. By far the best solution to press standards would be a body, established and organised by the industry which would provide genuinely independent and effective regulation of its members…”
“It is impossible to see how a Royal Charter that has been written by politicians and the Hacked Off lobby group and is to be imposed by politicians could possibly meet Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendation.”
The steering group pointed out that Lord Justice Leveson had himself rejected the possibility of a recognition body established by Parliament or the Government without the industry’s backing.
He said in his report: “One of the fundamental requirements for the regulatory body is independence from the Government. Any Parliamentary process would be likely to be perceived by the industry, and possibly the public, as Government interference in the independence of the press.”
The industry statement went on : “This proposed Royal Charter has already been universally rejected by the industry and it is even more regrettable that the industry will have no opportunity to take part in the discussions between the political parties over possible amendments.
“The Privy Council make it very clear that Royal Charter proposals are unlikely to succeed if they are the subject of controversy. Nothing could be more controversial than a Royal Charter imposed by politicians on an industry which is wholly opposed to it and which would fatally undermine freedom of expression.”
It said that the regional press had been exonerated by the Leveson Inquiry and that regional newspapers had been “swept headlong into an issue not of our making.”
“The day the first regional newspaper closes as a result of the Royal Charter, they will be bemoaning the loss of local democracy. And once lost, this would be hard to regain,” said the paper.
“This charter threatens the existence of many regional papers and, over the next few weeks, there is much to be worked out. We hope that the dialogue between press and politicians is open, and the voice of the regional press – untainted by scandals of phone hacking, hounding and bribes – is listened to.”
However in a separate interview, Actor and Hacked Off campaigner Hugh Grant made clear that no further compromise with the newspapers would be acceptable and described the latest moves as a “betrayal” of phone-hacking victims.