Industry leaders have given a near-universal thumbs-down to the latest attempt by the three main parties to come up with a deal on press regulation, despite some concessions aimed particularly at the local and regional press.
The latest proposals published on Friday would enable local and regional papers to opt out of the proposed arbitration scheme on the grounds of cost, if they can show it is causing serious financial harm.
It also proposes that complainants using the arbitration scheme should be charged a small, recoverable fee in a bid to clamp down on vexatious complaints.
Industry leaders initially promised only to “study closely” the new proposals, which were designed to break the deadlock over press regulation, but reaction over the weekend has been relentlessly hostile to the plan.
And today Mr Johnson, writing in his former paper the Daily Telegraph, waded into the debate, describing the proposed Royal Charter as “pointless” and “wrong in principle.”
“We have no need of some new body backed by statute, or the privy council, and it is wrong in principle. You either have a free press or you don’t,” he wrote.
“You can’t sell the pass, and admit the principle of regulation – because it is in the nature of regulation that it swells and grows. You can’t be a little bit pregnant.”
A statement by the Industry Steering Group, which comprises the Newspaper Society, Newspaper Publishers Association, Professional Publishers Association and Scottish Newspaper Society, questioned whether the proposal genuinely amounted to “independent self regulation.”
It said: “We welcome the fact that, after more than six months, politicians are finally seeing some of the flaws in their unacceptable and unilateral March 18 Charter. We will study their latest proposals closely.
“However this remains a Charter written by politicians, imposed by politicians and controlled by politicians. It has not been approved by any of the newspapers or magazines it seeks to regulate. Meanwhile the industry’s Charter was rejected by eight politicians, meeting in secret, and chaired by the same politician who is promoting the politicians’ Charter.
“Lord Justice Leveson called for ‘voluntary, independent self-regulation’ of the press. It is impossible to see how a regulator operating under rules imposed by politicians, and enforced by draconian and discriminatory provisions for damages and costs in civil cases, could be said to be either voluntary or independent.”
Other changes in the new draft will give serving editors a bigger role in the committee that will oversee the operation of the proposed new ‘standards code.”
It says: “Serving editors have an important part to play although not one that is decisive.”