The government will look “absurd” if it rejects the Leveson Report’s recommendations for the regulation of the press in favour of a Royal Charter, a former chairman of the Conservative Party has said.
Lord Fowler, also a former chairman of the House of Lords Communications Committee, has urged David Cameron to reverse his opposition to Lord Justice Leveson’s suggestion for the statuatory underpinning of the independent self-regulation of the press.
On Friday peers will debate the Leveson Report. The recommendations have split parliament, the coalition and the Tory party down the middle.
The prime minister dismayed many anti-phone hacking campaigners when he decided to reject Leveson’s call for a new system of press regulation to be backed by a new law.
Opponents of the plan, including editors of national newspapers and magazines, have argued that any state involvement in regulation will seriously threaten the freedom of the press.
However Lord Fowler told The Huffington Post UK that in reality the Leveson plan as “modest and moderate” and should be adopted as soon as possible
“The whole thing is in a bit of a muddle, I think that the obvious thing to do would be implement the Leveson report and the proposal on statutory underpinning,” he said.
“There has been enormous amount of black propaganda about what all this is going to mean and a number of people have accepted what they say.
“There was an ex-cabinet colleague of mine who couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about, they said [Leveson] was a very modest measure, and that’s true.
“Those who say this is statutory control, I think that that’s inaccurate. I think it's simply not statutory control; it’s a very modest underpinning."
It has been reported that in an effort to find a solution to the impasse, the government is considering an alternative option that would see a new system of press regulation overseen by a Royal Charter - granted by the privy council and independent of parliament.
The privy council is headed by Nick Clegg and made up of other cabinet ministers and other members of the government – leaving open the possibility government could withdraw any new regulator the right to regulate the press if it dislikes how it acts.
Lord Fowler said because of this the idea in many ways was “worse than the Leveson proposals” as it went too far the other way towards state control.
“I think it’s a bad idea. First of all a Royal Charter is a very arcane and antique system,” he said. “It gives power to the privy council, which is not exactly a democratic body.”
“It effectively is saying the government is going to take a big part of the control.
“Behind close doors my understanding is, and I wouldn’t swear to this, my understanding is they trying to make the Royal Charter thing work.
He added: “But I think it will just look absurd if the government says we’re not going to have underpinning, but instead now have a Royal Charter.”
The former Tory chairman observed that a Royal Charter, which he said is in effect “stitch-up” between the government and the Corporation, oversees the BBC.