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Industry keeps pressure on in press regulation battle

Industry leaders are keeping up the pressure on ministers over the future of press regulation ahead of a crunch meeting of the Privy Council later this month.

The council, made up mainly of current and former ministers, will be asked to decide between two rival Royal Charters to oversee the press – one put forward by the government, the other by the Newspaper Society and other industry bodies.

NS director David Newell as written to culture secretary Maria Miller warning that the government’s proposed Charter may be unconstitutional.

In the letter, he warns that the Charter will ask regional press titles to be part of an “expensive, burdensome regulatory structure” and rejects suggestions by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg that it could allow the regional press to set up a separate regulator.

An attachment to the letter states: “There are no examples which exist where a Royal Charter has been used to impose regulation or controls on an industry or profession without their agreement or consent and without full public consultation.

“This makes the Government’s draft press charter unique and potentially unconstitutional.

“Royal Charters in the twentieth century and beyond have never been used as a substitute for legislation to impose obligations on citizens without their consent. Otherwise governments would never have to legislate on anything. They could revert to ruling through the Queen in Council.”

“The Charter punishes regional and local newspapers for crimes and activities for which they have been found innocent and asks them to be part of an expensive, burdensome regulatory structure either as part of the whole industry or on their own.”

In a separate development, the leader of the Chartered Institute of Journalists warned that the government’s proposed charter may undermine its own Royal Charter, granted by Queen Victoria in 1890.

The Institute’s aims and objectives as set out in the Chatrer include “the ascertainment of the law and practice relating to all things connected with the journalistic profession and the exercise of supervision over its members when engaged in professional duties.”

CIoJ president Charlie Harris said:  “We have legal advice that the charter sent by Parliament to the Privy Council for royal assent has serious implications for our own charter and that we have a right to be consulted before any new charter that overlaps with ours is laid before Her Majesty for approval.”

The Institute says it was totally opposed to any state involvement in the enforcement of professional ethics and warned that the proposals would open the way for a future government to impose much tougher restrictions on freedom of the press.

An opinion poll published today showed that the clear majority of the public believes politicians should be kept out of press regulation.

More than two third of the people surveyed agreed that the new press regulation system “should be set up in a way that does not give politicians the final say if and when changes need to be made.”