The Conservative’s plans for a Royal Charter do not go far enough and are more “Leveson-defiant” than Leveson compliant, according to press reform group Hacked Off.
The Tories unveiled their draft proposals for a Recognition Panel underpinned by Royal Charter to oversee a new press regulator this afternoon which Culture Secretary Maria Miller said would allow “the principles of Leveson to be implemented swiftly and in a practical fashion”.
But less than 30 minutes after the draft was published by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport Hacked Off released a statement damning the proposals – claiming they would “give the press what they want”.
It accused the Prime Minister David Cameron of betraying his promise to deliver “the whole of Leveson”, which it said was “the minimum acceptable compromise”.
The group took issue with five aspects of the draft Royal Charter plan:
1. The Royal Charter would allow politicians to interfere in press regulation.
Under this Royal Charter politicians would be able to interfere with the regulation system, either to undermine press freedom or to help their friends in the press escape accountability. A chartered organisation is one that is overseen by ministers, and the efforts made by ministers to alter that in this case are simply insufficient. In addition, ministers have taken to themselves the power to appoint the chair of the panel that will pick the members of the chartered body. This self-evidently reduces the independence of the body, and is a clear breach of Leveson’s recommendations.
2. The Royal Charter would allow the press to be their own judge again.
Again in clear breach of the Leveson recommendations, ministers want to give the press a role in choosing the members of the recognition panel. This is the body that judges whether the press self-regulator is sufficiently effective, and not just another Press Complaints Commission. It is a body that must represent the interests of the public and not the industry, because its real job is to ensure the public is protected from press abuses.
3. The Royal Charter would allow the press to get away with a new self-regulator that was little different from the discredited PCC.
Leveson made 30 specific recommendations that set out the minimum requirements for a new press self-regulator. These ‘recognition criteria‘ were designed to ensure that the self-regulator would always put the interests of the public before those of the press. Of those 30, the draft Royal Charter breaches well over half, and ministers admit that all of them are in response to representations from the press – in other words, they have given editors what they demanded.
4. The Royal Charter would make victims pay for redress.
Where Leveson said the new arbitration service should be free for members of the public, the charter says it should be ‘inexpensive’. This means that a regulator will be allowed to charge victims for using an arbitration service.
5. The Royal Charter would allow the press to pick and choose which complaints it responds to.
Key recommendations on complaints, complaints handling and what the press have to do when they are found to have breached their code of practice have been breached or altered", Hacked Off said.
It also accused Ministers of showing a lack of transparency, calling the Royal Charter a “surrender to press pressure”.
The statement continued:
Six weeks ago ministers shared with Hacked Off their plans for the charter at that time. While these were far from being fully Leveson-complaint, they appeared to show an intention to create something that would work in the public interest. Then ministers stopped speaking to us. Now, weeks alter, we see a document that is not so much Leveson-compliant as Leveson-defiant.
We call on ministers to comply at least with Leveson’s recommendations 82-84, which require complete and up-to-date transparency of dealings they have with the press industry. They must come clean and reveal the record of their meetings with and correspondence with proprietors and editors – and with the executives and lawyers lobbying on their behalf.
A crucial element of the Leveson Inquiry and the Leveson Report was the problem of relations between the press and politicians. The public should be told what has happened in this case.