Press regulation: Main parties agree deal

Newspaper stand
The press have not signed up to the all-party charter

A Royal Charter aimed at underpinning self-regulation of the press has been published by the government.

An agreement by the three main parties followed months of wrangling since Sir Brian Leveson published his report into the ethics and practices of the press.

Culture Secretary Maria Miller said the deal would safeguard the freedom of the press and the future of local papers.

But the industry said the proposals could neither be described as "voluntary or independent".

BBC political correspondent Ross Hawkins said the agreed draft could become a formal Royal Charter by the end of October - although some newspapers look set to go it alone.

As one magazine immediately rejected the all-party plan, Labour called on the newspaper industry to "engage" with the new system and said there must be "no press boycott".

The all-party draft's proposals include:

  • A small charge for arbitration - as an alternative to expensive libel courts
  • An opt-out for local and regional newspapers
  • More involvement in decision making for the press and media industry

It comes following a deadlock between the press and politicians over what a new system of self-regulation would look like.

Some in the newspaper industry feared the Westminster proposals would give politicians too much power.

Earlier this week politicians dismissed a rival system proposed by the press, which would have prevented Parliament blocking or approving any future changes to regulation.

And while the culture secretary said the draft charter included "some really important changes" in an attempt to appease the press, she said there would be no movement on how the system could be amended.

The all-party charter states that changes could only be made with a two-thirds majority in Parliament.

The dispute was a "red-line issue" for the newspaper industry, commentators said.

Asked on BBC Radio 4's PM programme if this was up for negotiation, Ms Miller said: "No, that lock has to be in place. I think that's a fundamental way we keep this new system of self-regulation independent of government either now or in the future."

She added: "I'm very clear that we've published a final draft today but if there are things that come forward which all three parties feel merit attention then of course we'll be looking at that."

There is now likely to be a clash between the press and politicians as some newspapers go it alone and set up their own system of regulation.

The industry steering group - which represents publishers - said the all-party draft proposals were neither "voluntary or independent".

"This remains a charter written by politicians, imposed by politicians and controlled by politicians," it added in a statement.

"It has not been approved by any of the newspapers or magazines it seeks to regulate."

'Don't they understand?'

One magazine - a long-standing opponent of reforming the regulatory system - rejected the draft almost immediately.

"What part of 'no' don't they understand?" wrote Fraser Nelson, editor of the Spectator.

And the Independent's Chris Blackhurst told the BBC the press would not support the Westminster parties' plan.

"They still think it involves politicians overseeing our industry and they don't want that at any price," he said.

"It's a great threat that some newspapers... will try and go it alone."

Chairman of the influential Culture Media and Sport Committee John Whittingdale said: "I think today's announcement may go some way to meeting the objections of some newspapers but I don't think it's likely to be sufficient to command the support of the newspaper industry."

'No boycott'

Campaigners said changes to the draft proposals meant there was no reason for the press to refuse to back the charter.

"The way is now open to create a system of independent, effective press self-regulation that will benefit the public and poses no threat whatever to freedom of expression," said Brian Cathcart from the Hacked Off group.

Sir Brian Leveson's inquiry was set-up following public and political anger at phone-hacking, which culminated in the emergence that the now defunct News of the World had accessed the voicemail messages of murdered teenager Milly Dowler.

Lord Prescott, whose answerphone messages were also intercepted by the tabloid when he was a Labour minister, said he feared the press was deliberately delaying any agreement.

He told the BBC: "I don't think [Daily Mail editor] Mr Dacre or any of those hardliners whose papers committed those offences in the past will actually want to agree.

"I hope I'm wrong but I just feel the Privy Council and the Royal Charter is being used by them... to take a long-term delay and destroy it as they did with the last six inquiries."

But Energy Secretary Ed Davey said this time it would be different and the draft protected press freedom.

"In the past they've promised to regulate themselves and they've not done it," the Lib Dem MP told BBC Radio 4's Any Questions.

"We've created an independent process which, on reflection, I hope the press will back."

The agreement came as a result of talks between Ms Miller, Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman and Lib Dem Lord Wallace.

"I hope that the press will engage with this new system of independent self-regulation," Ms Harman said.

"We must have no press boycott. We need a press which is robust and free which holds those in power to account but which does not wreak havoc on the lives of innocent people."

The proposals will be put to the Privy Council - an ancient body which advises the Queen, mostly made up of senior politicians - for final agreement on 30 October.