Miliband faces regional press rebuff amid doubts that any publisher will sign up to Government backed regulation scheme

Labour leader Ed Miliband was told personally yesterday that regional newspaper industry figures will not be signing up to a system of regulation which conforms to the Royal Charter signed by the Queen on Wednesday.

With widespread opposition also being voiced by the national press it is currently looking doubtful that any major publisher will sign up to the Government-backed system of press regulation.

Miliband was the guest of honour at a lunch organised by the Newspaper Society for regional press lobby correspondents.

President of the society and chief executive of Archant Adrian Jeakings told Miliband: “We firmly believe that, by establishing a tough new self-regulatory scheme under the Independent Press Standards Organisation together with other news and magazine publishers from across the press, we can guarantee the public the protection it deserves whilst ensuring that the press remains truly free, and unfettered by political interference.

"The regional and local press – in common with newspapers and magazines across the UK – will not be signing up to the cross-party Royal Charter sealed yesterday. It was devised by politicians and a special interest lobby group and imposed on an unwilling industry.

"And in case anyone is in any doubt, we will be appealing yesterday's decision not to grant a judicial review."

Press owners’ group Pressbof failed on Wednesday to make a case at the High Court for judicial review of the Privy Council decision to reject its own press regulation Royal Charter. It is now taking the case to the Court of Appeal.

The final version of the cross-party Royal Charter sets out a system of press regulation which can be changed in future with a two-thirds majority of both Houses of Parliament and the unanimous agreement of an independent recognition body.

The Government charter sets out the framework for that independent recognition body to effectively license a system of self-regulation set up by the press.

If publishers press ahead with the creation of their new Independent Press Standards Organisation regulator regardless of the requirements of the cross-party Royal Charter, it would fail to get recognition and so leave publishers open to the threat of exemplary damages in privacy and libel cases. 

Ian Murray

Southern Daily Echo editor Ian Murray told Miliband yesterday that concessions made by the Government on the libel arbitration system set out in its Royal Charter were not enough to “buy off” regional editors. Under the final wording of the Royal Charter libel claimants will have to pay a fee to use the arbitration service and there is an opt-out for regional titles if it proves too costly for them.

Murray said: “The regional press has been frankly insulted by this constantly being referred to with a throwaway line – oh, it’s the regional press, we can buy you off by putting in a charge.

“I would contend that a free press is as important in Southampton and Glasgow as it is to those who walk round in Westminster.”

Miliband said: “If I believed this was going to inhibit the ability of the press to hold me to account, I wouldn’t be supporting it.”

It is not currently clear if any publishers will sign up to the system of press regulation set out by the Government.

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger giving evidence to the Leveson inquiry

The Guardian, which claims that the proposed Pressbof system of regulation will give undue influence to News UK, Telegraph Media Group and Associated Newspapers, has also signalled its opposition to the cross-party regulation plan.

It said in a leader column on Monday it said: “We don't like charters and consider the press's own alternatives for both setting up and recognising regulation insufficiently independent. We, along with the FT and the Independent, would prefer our colleagues in the press to agree to a more robustly independent regulator.

“Others would like us to create a rival regulator. But we are unpersuaded that having a broadsheet-only auditor solves anything.”

Several leader columns were strongly critical of cross-party Royal Charter suggesting that at present there is little prospect of national publishers backing the scheme.

The Sun said: “More than three centuries of press freedom were signed away by men and women behind closed doors.

"A last-minute legal challenge by the newspaper industry on the grounds the Privy Council's actions were unfair and unlawful was rejected by the High Court.

"The process has more in common with tyranny than a nation that founded parliamentary government." 

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