A Royal Charter governing the regulation of Britain's press has been signed by The Queen despite a late attempt to stop the motion via a legal injunction from newspaper and magazine publishers. The charter, which was backed by the three main political parties, establishes a body to oversee the country’s new press regulator, which unlike its predecessor, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), will hold substantial power over the industry.
Although short of full statutory regulation, the move has proved hugely unpopular with those working within the newspaper industry, who have argued that any political interference within the industry infringes on press freedom.
However, despite the signing of the the much-decried Charter, the newspaper industry has said it will carry on the fight with industry sourced suggesting that an appeal could be lodged within the next week against the High Court’s refusal to review the Privy Council’s decision to reject the alternative charter put forward by newspaper publishers.
Moreover, even if the legal wrangling amounts to nothing, some newspapers may simply refuse to sign up to the charter, although the government has promised exemplary damages should they decide not to do so.
On Wednesday evening, Tony Gallagher, the editor of The Daily Telegraph, tweeted:
Published on Wednesday evening, a Telegraph leader read:
Under the terms of the charter, which was passed by the Privy Council yesterday, if two thirds of Parliament wishes to amend the charter at some future date, in order to intimidate the press, then it has the mechanism to do so. Some attempt has been made to make this more palatable by suggesting that it would also require the agreement of a panel appointed by the Public Appointments Commission. But this would only have to include those vaguely defined as having “industry experience” – leaving the possibility open that politicians could conspire to attack the press. Such a scenario is not unimaginable.
Earlier, a spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said: "Acting on the advice of the Government, the Privy Council has granted the cross-party Royal Charter. Both the industry and the Government agree independent self-regulation of the press is the way forward and that a Royal Charter is the best framework. The question that remains is how it will work in practice; we will continue to work with the industry, as we always have.
"A Royal Charter will protect freedom of the press whilst offering real redress when mistakes are made. Importantly, it is the best way of resisting full statutory regulation that others have tried to impose."
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The Privy Council meeting, held at Buckingham Palace, was attended by four ministers - Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Culture Secretary Maria Miller, the Liberal Democrat justice minister, Lord McNally of Blackpool.
The announcement came at the end of a day of high drama in the courts. After the High Court rejected an application by newspaper and magazine publishers to block the charter, the industry took its case to the Court of Appeal.
But at 4.45pm - just 45 minutes before the Privy Council was due to meet - the news came that Lord Dyson, Master of the Rolls, sitting with two other Court of Appeal judges, had refused to grant an injunction pending further legal action.
"We are not willing to grant interim relief 'administratively' pending an application for permission to appeal," the judge said.
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Shortly before the Privy Council met, the Government announced a final flurry of amendments in an attempt to allay industry concerns.
The included a requirement that any future changes to the charter would require the unanimous agreement of the recognition body's board as well as a two thirds majority of both Houses of Parliament. Government sources said the amendment was intended to address newspaper fears of political meddling.
Hacked Off, the lobby group which has led the campaign for tighter regulation, welcomed the announcement, saying the it would enable the recommendations of the Leveson inquiry into press standards to be implemented.
"News publishers now have a great opportunity to join a scheme that will not only give the public better protection from press abuses, but will also uphold freedom of expression, protect investigative journalism and benefit papers financially," a spokesman said.
"We urge them to take this opportunity. It is what the inquiry recommended, what the public and the victims of press abuse expect, and what all parties in Parliament have united behind. The press should seize the chance to show the public they do not fear being held to decent ethical standards, and that they are proud to be accountable to the people they write for and about."
Earlier, Lord Black of Brentwood - the chairman of the Press Board of Finance (PressBof), the industry body funding the new regulator - said the decision to go to court had been made because of the "enormous ramifications for free speech" in the UK and across the globe.
Miller acknowledged that it was open to press not to sign up to a regulator set up under the Royal Charter but she said that she hoped they would do so. "Self-regulation is exactly that - it's self-regulation and the press obviously can choose to be subject to the royal charter or not, that is inherent in the process," she said
For Labour, shadow culture secretary Harriet Harman accepted that there were concerns within the industry but said that the role of the recognition would simply be to check once every three years that the regulator was operating independently. "I know that there are strong feelings but I actually think that the practicalities are such that the press don't have anything to fear from it," she said.
"You must have redress for individuals if the press get things wrong. You don't have to choose between freedom of the press and protecting individuals from the press doing things wrong. We need a strong press to hold to account those in power but the press mustn't abuse their own power and make individuals suffer."
Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, said: "This is disappointing and it is a pity the Queen has been brought into controversy. Royal charters are usually granted to those who ask for one - not forced upon an industry or group that doesn't want it. The important thing is that the press has moved a long way to create a robust new regulator by next spring, taking on board Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations including £1 million fines, orders to make corrections, investigative powers and an independent board with no serving editors in the regulatory system.
"Those who seem to want to neuter the press forget that there are 20 national papers, 1,100 regional and local papers and hundreds of magazines who have not done any wrong but they are willing to submit themselves to the scrutiny of the most powerful regulator in the Western world, so long as it is independent of politicians now and in the future."