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Newspaper Society hits out at ‘Yes Minister’ charter

Industry leaders have today renewed their attack on the government’s plans to regulate the press, highlighting the ‘Yes Minister’ nature of the appointments system.

The Newspaper Society says details released by Sir David Normington, the Commissioner for Public Appointments, reveal the extent to which the government’s Royal Charter for the regulation of the press depends on the executive power of the state.

According to the NS, it shows that Sir David can only begin the process of appointing the recognition panel which will oversee the new regulator when asked to by the government.

NS director David Newell described the system as a “naked ‘Yes Minister’ arrangement” that was “deeply worrying” for the industry.

Writing on his organisation’s website, Sir David revealed that his role requires new powers which have been created for him by royal prerogative and that he can only act once he has been asked to by a minister:

“Although the Royal Charter has been granted, the Commissioner does not, as yet, have the legal powers to undertake the functions set out for him in the Charter.

“Article 4 of the Public Appointments Order in Council 2013 provides the mechanism by which the Commissioner can be given these additional functions. This involves a Minister writing asking him to take on additional functions, and for him to respond agreeing to the request.

“Until this exchange of letters takes place the Commissioner cannot begin the process of appointing the Board of the Recognition Panel.”

Mr Newell commented: “It is deeply worrying that such a naked ‘Yes, Minister’ arrangement lies at the very core of the Government’s Royal Charter.

“It is also very worrying that the Commissioner is to be expected to compromise his independence by using the executive power of the state to begin the process of imposing a Government-created Recognition Panel on an industry which has universally rejected it.

“We trust he will think very hard indeed, and consult the industry, before acceding to this request.”

However the Commissioner denied that this arrangement compromised his independence.

“There are plenty of examples of other regulators who are funded – and in some cases appointed – by the Government yet still operate fully independently,” he wrote.

“The Commissioner was asked to undertake these functions because of his independence and because the credibility of the appointments made to the Board of the Recognition Panel demands that they are made in a way that is entirely independent of Government and the oversight of Ministers.”


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  • December 19, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    This Newspaper Society statement fails to mention something the Commissioner for Public Appointments pointed out in their correspondence: the NS is currently spending large sums of its members’ money in the effort to secure a Royal Charter of its own – which would give the CPA the very powers that are complained of here. 

    In other words, on the one hand the NS is denouncing the CPA’s involvement, while on the other it is seeking to involve him. That doesn’t seem very consistent.

    To explain: with its partner organisations in PressBoF, the NS is going to court next month seeking to overturn successive court rulings denying it leave to appeal against the rejection of its bid for a Royal Charter on its own terms. Under that Royal Charter, which by implication the NS still endorses, who would oversee the first stage of a (deliberately warped) appointments process? The Commissioner for Public Appointments. 

    As for ‘Yes Minister’, does the real Royal Charter – the one approved by all parties in Parliament and backed by public opinion – allow politicians any role in press regulation? It does not. Would the PressBoF version of a charter allow them a role? It would allow politicians to hold positions of  influence in both a regulator and an inspecting body. The Newspaper Society is thus advocating a ‘Yes Minister’ regulator. 

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