CIoJ rejects both Royal Charters as 'coercive' and threatening to investigative journalism

The Chartered Institute of Journalism has said that both proposed Royal Charters on press regulation threaten “the standards and rigour of investigative journalism”.

The trade body has also challenged the Government’s use of a Royal Charter to rubberstamp its plans for voluntary regulation, claiming that the press is already regulated by the existing charter which incorporated the CIoJ in 1890.

The Department of Culture Media and Sport told Press Gazette that it has yet to decide whether or not the various responses to the Royal Charter consultation will made public.

In its response to the public consultation on the charter submitted to the Privy Council by the Press Standards Board of Finance, which closed last Friday, the CIOJ said the idea that the proposed scheme would represent voluntary regulation “is misleading”.

The fact that any publishers who do not sign up to the regulatory regime could face exemplary claims damages or be made to meet the costs of unsuccessful claims amounts to “coercion” forcing them to join.

The CIoJ said: “For the courts to punish a defendant for choosing not to do something that the law does not require him to do offends profoundly against a basic principle of English law and tenets of natural justice.”

It said the use provisions that lead to large legal bills for claims would discourage journalists and their employers from engaging “in a proper scrutiny of public affairs”.

The institute also attacked the “tacit acceptance that the state has some role to play in media regulation”, pointing out that the alleged phone-hacking activities that led to the formation of the Leveson Inquiry and subsequent attempts to tighten regulation involved criminal wrongdoing.

“It is not the duty of a regulatory body to investigate or punish criminal acts such as phone hacking, e-mail interception, corruption of public officials or bribery,” continued the CIoJ’s response. “These are the duties of an agency such as the police.”

Although the institute said the Pressbof charter, which is backed by most of the newspaper and magazine industry, was “the least objectionable” option on the table, it fell some way short of offering its support. Instead the body highlighted the existence of its own 123-year-old charter, which was confirmed in 1990.

CIoJ President Charlie Harris said: "How can any proposal for a Royal Charter which ignores an existing charter make any sense or give the public any confidence that this is a credible way forward?

“The constitution of the new regulatory body has largely been framed as being between publisher and independent members and yet it is journalists who are best placed to recognise corporate wrong doing, or ethical failings and yet they are not offered a seat at the table.

“The Pressbof proposal reconstitutes the Press Complaints Commission with some tweaks which was the reason the inquiry was set up, but both charter proposals rely on statutory underpinning which the CIoJ believes flies in the face of an independent press.

“The public deserve not to be misled by disgruntled MPs and image-preening celebrities over Press regulation proposals.  It is time these individuals come clean and admit that when the police do their job, there are perfectly acceptable laws that already exist to keep law-breakers, including those in journalism, in check.”

The CIoJ's submission can be read in full here.

Last week, pressure group Liberty said the Government should scrap plans for a Royal Charter.

Liberty director Chami Chakrabarti, who was one of six independent assessors on the Leveson Inquiry, called for a system of self-regulation enshrined by law, with the group labelling the alternative Royal Charter route “non-transparent and undemocratic”.

While the consultation on the newspaper-backed Royal Charter ended on Friday, the Government’s version, which has the backing of all three major parliamentary parties as well as campaign group Hacked Off and the National Union of Journalists, has yet to be submitted to the Privy Council.

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