Government presses on with Parliament-backed press regulation plan - but offers compromise on libel arbitration

The Government has rejected a press regulation plan put forward by newspaper and magazine publishers and is instead press ahead with the ratification of a Royal Charter on press regulation which has the backing of Parliament.

But it has indicated it will change the current drafting of the charter to address industry concerns about a proposed compulsory system of libel disputes arbitration and over the make-up of the committee which drafts the Code of Practice which will underpin any new system of press regulation.

Miller told the House of Commons that she was setting a 30 October deadline for the passing of the proposed Charter. She said if agreement cannot be reached at that stage, she will go forward with the 18 March cross-party deal. 

She admitted some of the delays were to allow the inclusion of Scotland in the proposed regulation system.

She also said she wished to discuss the matter of arbitration with the regional press in a bid to reduce the potential costs. 

She said: "If we are going to have effective self regulation we are going to have to take the public and the press with us."

Miller said self-regulation would prove effective as there will be an innovative arbitration process.  

However, Daily Telegraph editor Tony Gallagher criticised the proposals, claiming she was introducing state regulation of the press.

He was supported by former News International Chief Executive Les Hinton

Here is the statement in full from Culture Secretary Maria Miller:

We all agree that what is needed is a workable and effective system of press self-regulation.

We all agree that we must protect our free press whilst striking the right balance between independence and re-dress for individuals.

Of course, there is no question of undermining the Press’ ability to criticise or make judgements – It underpins our democracy and holds us to account. However, this is about ensuring that the public has a fair system of redress through which to challenge those mistakes and errors when necessary.

I have always echoed Leveson in saying that the success of a new system will be seen in an approach that offers justice and fairness for the public and that protects the freedom of the press.

This House will be fully aware of the careful deliberations following the publication of the Leveson report and the weight of responsibility that comes with implementing that system.

Significant progress has been made since I last updated the House including by the press themselves who are well down the track of setting up their self-regulatory body.

And, all involved in the process now consider a Royal Charter, to oversee this regulatory body, to be the correct way forward. 6 months ago this seemed impossible.

What we are now talking about are differences of opinions in how a Royal Charter should be constructed.

The Committee of the Privy Council is unable to recommend the Press’ proposal for a Royal Charter be granted. Whilst there are areas where it is acceptable, it is unable to comply with some fundamental Leveson principles and government policy, such as independence and access to arbitration. A copy of this recommendation letter has been placed in the Library of both Houses. 

In the light of this, we will be taking forward the Cross Party Charter which was debated in this House.

I can therefore tell all Members of this House that the cross party charter will be on the agenda at a specially convened meeting of the Privy Council on October 30th.

In the interim, we must finish making our Charter workable, so it will meaningfully deliver independent and effective self-regulation.

We have already improved drafting in the Cross Party charter. We have worked with the Scottish Government and made sure that the press don’t have to worry about complying with different frameworks on either side of the border.

We have had discussions with the Commissioner for Public Appointments and clarified how his role will work.

And, having considered the Press’ Charter the committee has identified two substantive areas –access to arbitration and the editors code – where we could improve what is in the 18th March draft.

I know that the Right Honourable Member for Peckham opposite agrees, as do both parties of the coalition, that these areas, could indeed benefit from further consideration.

As such, all three political parties will work together in the forthcoming days and produce a final draft of the cross-party Charter to place in the Libraries of both Houses on Friday. This will allow Parliamentarians, the public and the press to see the version we intend to seal.

If any specific change cannot be agreed by all three parties, we will revert to the 18 March Charter debated by parliament.

We have an opportunity to take a final look at our Charter. An opportunity to bring all parties together and ensure that the final charter is both workable and effective.

We have a responsibility to make sure that what we do here will be effective and stand the test of time, so we need to make it the best we can.

We have a once in a generation opportunity to get this right. We all want it to be the best we can do to give individuals access to re-dress whilst safeguarding this country’s free press which forms such a vital part of our democracy.

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