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Plans unveiled for Royal Charter to regulate press

The government has unveiled its plans for a Royal Charter to underpin a new Leveson-compliant system of press regulation.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have been calling for statutory regulation of the industry to be introduced in the wake of Lord Justice Leveson’s report on press standards.

But Prime Minister David Cameron wants to avoid the need for parliamentary legislation on the issue and has come up with a Royal Charter as a means of achieving this.

The draft provisions for the Charter, published this afternoon, propose a ‘Recognition Panel’ whose role will be to validate a regulatory body which will oversee the industry.

The Recognition Panel will be headed by a Board appointed by a four-person Appointments Committee chaired by Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, a retired Supreme Court judge

No editors, publishers, MPs or ministers would be allowed to be members of the Board.

The actual regulator itself will have a majority of members who are “demonstrably independent of the press” and no more than one serving editor.

It will be required to sign up to a standards code written by a Code Committee comprised of both serving editors and independent members.

The regulator will not have the power to prevent publication of material, but will be able to fine subscriber publications up to £1m found to be responsible for “serious or systemic breaches of the standards code.”

It will also have the power to require publication of corrections, if the breaches in question relate to accuracy.

Changes to the Charter will only be possible with the agreement the leaders of the three biggest political parties in the Commons and a two thirds majority of both MPs and peers.

Further details can be seen on the Department of Culture, Media and Sport website.

Culture Secretary Maria Miller said: “The Royal Charter would allow the principles of Leveson to be implemented swiftly and in a practical fashion. It would see the toughest press regulation this country has ever seen, without compromising press freedom.

“I have been clear that the ‘status quo’ is not an option and that we need tough independent self-regulation.

“Equally, I have said that I have grave concerns about a press Bill and am not convinced that it is necessary on the grounds of principle, practicality or necessity.

“The ongoing cross party talks will seek to secure consensus around the Royal Charter.”

Industry reaction to the proposed changes has been cautiously welcoming.  Bob Satchwell, Executive Director of the Society of Editors, said:  “We are studying the Royal Charter proposals carefully because achieving a Leveson-compliant self regulatory system is full of complex practical and legal issues.

“Lord Justice Leveson was at pains to point out that most of the press has been found guilty of nothing, but the tough new regulatory system and the Royal Charter plan are massive changes. To suggest this is a “surrender” to Press pressure simply shows that there are those who seem intent on neutering all of the papers.”

Paul Vickers, chairman of the Industry Implementation Group which includes the Newspaper Society, said: “We welcome this very constructive announcement, the fruit of two months of intensive talks involving the newspaper and magazine industry and all three main political parties.

“All the framework of the new regulatory body is already in place; today’s publication of the proposed Royal Charter and Recognition Criteria is a vital development which means the work of setting it up can begin as soon as the Royal Charter is established. We are convinced this should be done without statute, which would raise dangerous constitutional questions.”

However the Hacked Off campaign group, which wants complete implementation of Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations, including a statutory basis for any regulatory body, rejected the Charter plan as “a surrender to press pressure”.

It went on: “It proposes ditching or watering down almost every one of the Leveson recommendations that is inconvenient to editors and proprietors.

“Six weeks ago ministers shared with Hacked Off their plans for the charter at that time. While these were far from being fully Leveson-complaint, they appeared to show an intention to create something that would work in the public interest.

“Now, weeks later, we see a document that is not so much Leveson-compliant as Leveson-defiant.”