Government offers publishers final deal on Royal Charter following high-stakes game of chicken

The Government has offered the newspaper industry a final compromise on press regulation in a finak version of its cross-party Royal Charter.

The Government had said that a two-thirds majority of both houses of Parliament would be needed to alter the Royal Charter. In a bid to keep the newspaper industry on board, it has niow said no changes could take place without unanimous agreement of the board of the new press regulator's recognition panel.

A Government source said the changes were designed to address press concerns about political meddling.
 
Ministers claim that the "parliamentary lock" requiring a two-thirds majority in both houses strengthened the charter against interference by politicians, but the document now contains a further safeguard.
 
"Now not only do you need a two-thirds majority of both Houses, you also need the agreement of the recognition panel," the source said.
 
"This is an independent body appointed by the Public Appointments Commission, which will have industry representation on it."
 
Although the panel excludes serving and former editors, the source said there were a "whole range of people that could be deemed to have industry experience".
 
Earlier the High Court rejected a legal challenge from Pressbof seeking an injunction to stop the Government pressing ahead with the Royal Charter saying it was “at best weak”.

Lord Justice Richards and Mr Justice Sales said there was a strong public interest in allowing the Privy Council to consider the Government’s plan as it had cross-party support.

The legal bid by PressBof claimed the Privy Council had not “considered fairly” its own Royal Charter on press regulation, the High Court was told.

Opening the case for the Press Standards Board of Finance (PressBof), the industry body which funds the PCC, Richard Gordon QC told the judges the essence of the claim for judicial review was that the industry charter "has simply not been considered fairly".

Gordon said: "We would add to that it has not been considered rationally and we would add to that it has not been considered lawfully.

"We submit the process of consideration of the press charter includes a number of elementary defects."

Lawyers for the Culture Secretary denied there has been any unfairness or abuse of power and the application for judicial review should be rejected.

However, the two judges ruled that PressBof did not have an arguable case and rejected the injunction bid.

Hacked Off's executive director Brian Cathcart said: "The big newspaper companies like the Mail and the Murdoch press have been in denial ever since the Leveson inquiry report condemned the way they treated ordinary people and said they needed to change.

"The inquiry judge has told them this. Their own readers – the public – have told them. Their past victims have told them. Every single party in Parliament has told them. Now the courts have thrown out their latest manoeuvre. 

"We have to ask: is there anyone at all that Rupert Murdoch and the other arrogant proprietors will listen to? 

"The Royal Charter is good for journalism, good for freedom of speech, and – vitally – good for the public. What Mr Murdoch and his friends are clinging to is the right to lie, twist, bully and intrude, inflicting misery on innocent people. That has to stop."

A spokesman for the Department of Culture Media and Sport said: "Both the industry and the Government agree self-regulation of the press is the way forward and we both agree that a Royal Charter is the best framework for that.

“We are clear the process for considering the industry Royal Charter was robust and fair and the Courts have agreed. We can now get on with implementing the Cross Party Charter.

“A Royal Charter will protect freedom of the press whilst offering real redress when mistakes are made. Importantly, it is the best way of resisting full statutory regulation that others have tried to impose. We will continue to work with the Industry, as we always have, and recent changes secured by the Culture Secretary, to arbitration, the standards code and the parliamentary lock will ensure the system is workable.”

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