Hacked Off claims press Royal Charter is a 'desperate' attempt to defy the will of Parliament

Campaign group Hacked Off has condemned the rival press regulation Royal Charter published today as a “desperate move” which defies the will of Parliament.

The main industry trade bodies – the Newspaper Society, Newspaper Publishers Association and PPA – have put forward a rival Royal Charter which has major differences from the cross-party proposal published on 18 March.

Many newspaper industry figures were furious that representatives from Hacked Off (but no-one from the press) were present in the final late-night negotiations with politicians.

Today Hacked Off said:

Editors and proprietors of some newspapers, defying the will of Parliament, have today launched a bid to block any kind of independent regulation of the press that would be capable of protecting the public from the abuses that made the Leveson inquiry necessary.

They are unilaterally rejecting the findings of a formal public inquiry that condemned newspapers for ‘wreaking havoc in the lives of innocent people’ and are threatening to set up a new regulator of their own that will inevitably be another industry poodle like the discredited Press Complaints Commission.

As part of their plan they say they will set up their regulator under a Royal Charter of their own – based on a draft document published in February that would have given editors control of every aspect of the operation. 

Editors would have a veto on all appointments, they would be able to pick and choose which complaints to respond to, they would be able to bury corrections in the back pages and they would continue to write their own rule-book. 

Under such a system the public could have no confidence that their complaints would be dealt with impartially because, like the fatally flawed PCC, the new body would put the interests of editors before those of ordinary people with complaints.

This desperate move by editors and proprietors – rejecting the Royal Charter agreed last month by all parties in Parliament and due to be approved by the Queen in days – is only the latest proof that most of the industry has learned no lessons from the Leveson experience. They are not sorry for the abuses exposed at the inquiry, or for the further abuses exposed almost weekly since, and they do not accept the need for real change.

This is despite abundant opinion poll evidence (which papers stubbornly refuse to report) showing that the overwhelming majority of the public wants truly independent and effective press regulation that does not interfere with free speech. That is what Leveson recommended and that is what the Royal Charter approved by Parliament will deliver.

Sun editor Dominic Mohan was among the industry figures to today speak up for the new Royal Charter plan.

He said: “Sun readers expect journalists to behave responsibly, but don't want them censored by a state-sponsored Ministry of Truth.

"This constructive proposal would create a tough but independent regulator supported by the vast majority of the industry – a workable solution which should command public confidence."

News International chief executive Mike Darcey said: "The independent Royal Charter now on the table has my support and it has the overwhelming support of our fellow publishers, national and regional, left and right, tabloid and broadsheet.

"I believe that the approach is sustainable and workable and that it will deliver the tough but voluntary system of independent self-regulation originally envisaged by Lord Justice Leveson, but crucially in a way that will mean that the press will not be at the mercy of the politicians that we are seeking to hold to account."

Times acting editor John Witherow said: "The reason why we are supporting this separate Royal Charter is we believe the one put forward by the politicians infringes too much on the public's right to know and on press freedom.

"We are proposing that this new Charter is one put up by the industry which they will sign up to and this is equally robust but it separates the politicians from press regulation and keeps it as independent self-regulation which is a very important principle.

"It also means that the taxpayers do not have to pay for any form of regulation, as proposed by the politicians. We the press will pay for this regulation and cost the taxpayers absolutely nothing."

Sun managing editor Richard Caseby said: "An earlier deal for state regulation was botched together by politicians and the pressure group Hacked Off at a secret late-night meeting. The Prime Minister was asleep in his bed at the time. This was not the independent self-regulation recommended by the Leveson Inquiry. It was rushed, it was draconian, it was a mess, and it has been condemned by commentators the world over.

"It meant that the state would ultimately have the final say in what newspapers write and it went further. It basically blackmailed publishers into joining up because it threatened them with punitive damages which could easily put them out of business. No newspaper in Britain has said they will sign up.

"The solution to this impasse is the independent Royal Charter. It's a workable solution and one which should inspire public confidence because it protects freedoms and it protects the public."

News International has published videos where senior executives make the case for the new Royal Charter press regulation plan here.

Campaign group Index on Censorship also broadly supports the new industry plan.

Chief executive Kirsty Hughes said: "The Royal Charter introduces unwarranted government interference into the process of press regulation. Index welcomes the industry's rejection of this approach.

"All those who refuse to sign up to the regulator will now risk facing exemplary damages, which means there will be a continuing chill on press freedom in the UK.

"A truly independent and voluntary system is needed and must be one that offers tough standards and complaints procedures.

"Index is concerned, however, that the industry appears to want to use the vehicle of a Royal Charter, which we believe would still allow an undesirable political influence."

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