A local newspaper editor has warned that the Parliament-backed press regulation Royal Charter would mean that titles like his will “struggle to hold local authority to account”.
The Government is currently mulling whether to enact its own Royal Charter on press regulation when the Privy Council meets next month, or a rival document put forward by the newspaper and magazine industry. The industry charter makes the creation of a libel disputes arbitration body optional and removes an element of statutory underpinning.
This week director of campaign group Hacked Off Brian Cathcart wrote to local editors saying: “You may be concerned that any changes to the press regulation system could make your job harder and put extra burdens on regional and local papers. That’s what the Newspaper Society has been warning.
“I am writing to say that what the Newspaper Society has been telling you is not correct.
But in an editorial Derbyshire Times editor James Mitchison said today: "This week is Local Newspaper Week, and community newspapers like the Derbyshire Times are using the opportunity to fight for their very survival.
"I am talking about the Leveson report, and the Government’s effective move towards state regulation of the press – lock, stock and barrel.
"It all stems, of course, from a bunch of unscrupulous hacks (I cannot call them journalists) who deemed it fit and proper to ‘hack’ into people’s phones, in the hunt for salacious dirt. The people responsible are as far removed from my team as chalk and cheese, however, the Government intends ruling national tabloids and community newspapers in the same way.
"It’s the equivalent of putting every child in detention because one schoolyard bully has beaten up half a dozen kids for their lunch money. Apologies for the crude analogy, believe me, I am not seeking to trivialise their criminal acts but to illustrate how unworkable the Government’s Royal Charter is."
Mitchison warns: “If Parliament’s version of the charter is passed, titles like mine will struggle to hold local authority to account. We’ll be stifled by red tape, and bureaucracy, leaving you vulnerable.
"I have personally written to all MPs on the Derbyshire Times’ patch. Some have responded positively, some not at all. If you want your local newspaper to survive, I urge you too to tell your MP, before it’s too late.”