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Pickles relaxed over whether press sign up to Charter

Communities secretary Eric Pickles has said it would be “perfectly acceptable” for newspapers not to sign up to the government’s Royal Charter on press regulation.

Mr Pickles, who last year warned against state regulation of the press, said he was “not troubled” by this month’s compromise agreement by the three main parties to control journalists’ conduct.

But he made clear it was up to newspapers to decide whether or not they wanted to be part of the system.

He told the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme:  “If the press want to have an additional protection that the Royal Charter operates, then they can move into the system, but if they want to continue independently, that’s perfectly acceptable.”

One of Mr Pickles’ junior ministers, Nick Boles, last week said that there was nothing the Coalition government had done which “troubled” him as much as the proposed Charter.

Asked whether he shared those concerns, Mr Pickles replied:  “No, it’s not my view.”

He went on: “It is massively important to ensure we have freedom of press. The British press is good at exposing corruption and it is good at going to places where other press wouldn’t.

“I think it was Thomas Jefferson who said that for a free society to operate, the river of a free press had to flow without restriction.”

Culture Secretary Maria Miller announced earlier this month that the main political parties had agreed rules for regulating the press and dealing with complaints, a year after the Leveson Inquiry into wrongdoing by journalists.

Two different proposals have been put forward, one by newspapers and one by politicians.

The newspaper industry’s plans, which involve a system which is independent of government and would require newspapers to pay fines of up to £1 million, were rejected by the subcommittee of the Privy Council.

The proposals backed by the three main parties, on the other hand, involve statutory underpinning. These plans have now been put forward to the Privy Council for final approval, expected on October 30.