The stage is set for a historic clash between Parliament and the press as the majority of the newspaper industry today rejected the cross-party press regulation Royal Charter with just weeks to spare before it goes to the Queen for approval.
The Newspaper Society has put in its own rival petition to the Privy Council for a Royal Charter to regulate the press.
The Queen could now be placed in a difficult position on 15 May when the Privy Council meets to approve the cross-party press regulation Royal Charter. Such charters are normally uncontroversial and the Privy Council will have two rival Royal Charters to consider - one put forward by the newspaper and magazine industry, the other by Parliament.
The decision on how to handle this unique constitutional dilemma may lie with Lord President of the Privy Council Nick Clegg. The Queen herself, as head of the Privy Council, may have a say in how this is handled.
Regional press trade body the Newspaper Society claims that whereas its Royal Charter is now going out to consultation, the Government has not done so with its plan - in breach of the rules of the Privy Council.
According to Mail on Sunday editor emeritus Peter Wright the industry plan has the backing of the main trade bodies – the Newspaper Society, Newspaper Publishers Association and the PPA. But discussions are ongoing as to whether all individual publishers agree to it.
The industry plan is based closely on the first Royal Charter on press regulation put forward by the Conservatives on 12 February after negotiations with representatives from the newspaper industry.
But it differs in several major respects from the final Royal Charter agreed after discussions between the three main political parties and campaign group Hacked Off which was published on 18 March.
Under an amendment to the Crime and Courts Bill which is still going through Parliament, publishers who are not members of the new regulator would be left open to threat of exemplary damages in libel actions. By putting forward their own Royal Charter, publishers appear to be accepting this statutory element.
However the other statutory aspect of the cross-party press regulation regime put forward last month has been rejected by publishers. An amendment to the Enterprise and Regulator Reform Bill states that future Royal Charters can only be amended by a two thirds majority of both houses of Parliament.
But the press Royal Charter explicitly states terms under which it can be amended which override that legislation.
Here are the main points of difference between the industry Royal Charter and the cross-party deal.
Independence of the press:
The cross-party Royal Charter proposes total independence for the Recognition Panel which will licence a new press regulator.
The press Royal Charter states that the Recognition Panel should include someone who represents the publishers’ Industry Funding Body (currently Pressbof).
Permanence of the Royal Charter:
Parliament proposes that the Royal Charter can only be changed with a two-thirds majority of both houses of Parliameent
The press Royal Charter can be changed with “unanimous support of the members of the recognition panel, the members of the board of the regulator and the members of the boards of all the trade associations”. This trumps the terms of Enteprise and Regulatory Reform bill.
In a new section the press Royal Charter plan gives the board of the regulator “discretion not to look into complaints if they feel that the complaint is without justification, is an attempt to argue a point of opinion rather than a standards code breach, or is simply an attempt to lobby”.
Editors’ Code Committee:
The cross-party Royal Charter proposes that the Editors’ Code Committee should comprise one third editors, one third members of the public and one third ordinary journalists. (It is currently all serving editors).
The press Royal Charter wants to keep a majority of serving editors on the Code Committee but include some independent members
The cross-party Royal Charter deal says the new press regulator must include an arbitration service as way of agreeing libel compensation in a way that is cheaper than going to court.
The press Royal Charter says that the “board of the self-regulatory body may provide an arbitral process in relation to civil legal claims against subscribers”.
It suggests also that it “may consider operating a pilot scheme to test the fairness, effectiveness and sustainability of the arbitral process”.