The newspaper industry today firmly rejected the government's plans for the future of press regulation and published its own proposal for a Royal Charter to create a tough and independent new system of self-regulation.
Publishers representing the national and local newspaper and magazine industry and covering thousands of publications are to apply for a Charter which they say would meet the recommendations of last year's Leveson Report into press standards without introducing any element of state-sponsored regulation.
In a statement co-ordinated by the Newspaper Society, they said that the Royal Charter published by the Government on March 18 has been condemned by a range of international media freedom organisations and enjoys "no support within the press" in the UK.
"A number of its recommendations are unworkable and it gives politicians an unacceptable degree of interference in the regulation of the press," warned the statement.
The industry's rival charter would critically not include the government's plan that the regulatory system could only be removed following a two thirds majority vote of both houses of parliament.
Tony Gallagher, the editor of the Daily Telegraph, said: "Can anyone possibly be surprised we have rejected Lab-Lib-Hackedoff stitch up - not forgetting walk on role for sleepy Letwin. (PM was in bed)."
Dominic Mohan, Editor of The Sun said: "Sun readers expect journalists to behave responsibly, but don’t want them censored by a state-sponsored Ministry of Truth. This constructive proposal would create a tough but independent regulator supported by the vast majority of the industry – a workable solution which should command public confidence."
The industry's proposal is closely based on the draft Royal Charter published on February 12 following negotiations with national and local newspapers and magazines.
The statement described it as "a workable, practical way swiftly to deliver the Leveson recommendations, which the industry accepts, without any form of state-sponsored regulation that would endanger freedom of speech".
The statement said the new proposal has "widespread backing across the industry" and would deliver:
- Tough sanctions - with the new regulator able to impose fines of up to £1 million for systematic wrongdoing;
- Full and prominent correction of inaccuracies;
- Strong investigative powers enabling the new regulator to investigate wrongdoing and call editors to account;
- Genuine independence from the industry and from politicians, with all the bodies making up the new regulator having a majority of independent members appointed openly and transparently; and
- Public involvement in the framing of the Code of Practice which binds national and local newspapers and magazines.
Crucially, there would be a public consultation on the industry's proposals to allow newspaper and magazine readers to have their say - something which is not being offered for the Government-sponsored scheme.
The industry statement said: "This Royal Charter proposal will deliver on Leveson and bind the UK's national and local newspapers and magazines to a tough and enduring system of regulation - tougher than anywhere else in the Western world - which will be of real benefit to the public, at the same time as protecting freedom of speech."
John Whittingdale, the Tory chairman of the Commons culture, media and sport committee, told HuffPost UK the industry's move was "hugely welcome" and urged David Cameron to hold discussions to find an agreement.
Under the industry proposals, a new recognition panel would be created, with the responsibility for accrediting a self-regulation body for the press and the power to withdraw recognition if the regulator fails to live up to its responsibilities.
The chair and members of the new panel would be selected by an appointments committee chaired by a retired Supreme Court judge and including one representative of the industry's interests, one member representing the public interest and one public appointments assessor nominated by the Commissioner for Public Appointments for England and Wales.
Every member of the recognition panel would be required to have senior board-level experience in a public or private sector organisation and the panel would have to include members with legal qualifications, financial skills and experience of the newspaper and magazine industry.
Serving editors, publishers, MPs, members of devolved assemblies and ministers would be barred from joining either the appointments committee or the recognition panel.