Protections in the Royal Charter on press regulation designed to stop future political interference in the media could be swept away after the 2015 general election, it was revealed on Wednesday, after the Culture Secretary conceded that a clause demanding a two thirds parliamentary majority has to be reached before any changes to the charter could be made was tantamount to worthless.
Miller’s admission followed claims by MPs that the safeguard could easily be overridden by future parliaments who would not be bound by the clause following the next election.
Speaking at the Culture, Media and Sport committee, Conservative Conor Burns said: "The advice that I have had when I have gone to talk to very senior clerks is that the two thirds is a parliamentary nonsense, that no parliament can bind a successor parliament and that if a successor parliament wanted to amend or change or bring in a different charter that they could do that by a simple majority."
In response, Miller said: "The principle behind that provision was to very much ensure that the charter could not be changed simply on the whim of ministers who are privy councillors at the time,” adding: "Of course a government can pass laws and with a simple majority in the House of Commons can change anything it wants to change but what I think we are doing in putting that provision in place is giving Parliament a very clear ability to be able to press any government on why it might not adhere to that and I think that is a really rather important thing to have been done."
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The Press has refused to sign up to a new body overseeing self-regulation, claiming it introduced a degree of political influence which ''signed away three centuries of Press freedom''.
Last month, Miller indicated the royal charter could become redundant if the industry's new watchdog, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso), proved successful. Asked if she had meant to make such a suggestion, Miller told MPs it was not possible to mandate Press involvement in a self regulatory process "otherwise you will be having statutory process regulation".
She added: "I'm very pleased indeed with the progress the Press has been making in setting up Ipso and the support that is being garnered within the industry for the approach that is being taken." Earlier this month the industry announced that Ipso, due to be launched next spring, had been backed by more than 90% of national newspapers.
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The Guardian, the Financial Times, and the Independent, however, are yet to sign up to the contract that sets up the new organisation to replace the Press Complaints Commission. Shunning the system set out in the cross-party royal charter means that newspapers face the threat of exemplary damages if they end up fighting cases in court.
Miller said: "I think it is clear that if the Press self-regulatory body wishes to seek recognition that they will have to adhere to the rules set out, the framework set out within the charter. That's pretty clear. If people choose not to seek recognition that is their choice but ultimately they won't be able to benefit from the cost advantages that they would get if they were within the system."