Publishers say Royal Charter does not have Parliament's backing and say exemplary damages threat is 'illegal'

Regional press trade body the Newspaper Society has accused some politicians of attempting to “re-invent history” by saying that the Royal Charter on press regulation has been approved by Parliament.

The move comes amid a hardening up of anti Royal Charter sentiment from publishers. 

This morning the publisher-backed Free Speech Network revealed new research which it said showed the public was against the cross-party Royal Charter press regulation plan. Today it also emerged that international press groups have written to the Queen urging her not to sign a "repressive" Royal Charter which they said would be "seized on by enemies of free speech everywhere eager to impose similar controls".

In a briefing note released this afternoon, the NS said MPs only passed “a timetable motion” in March 2013 when discussing the issue of a Royal Charter.

The NS said Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament on 18 March that passing a law setting out the exact terms of a press regulator would be "crossing the Rubicon”.

The Prime Minister said: “It would give the House and future governments the ability to legislate in a totally illiberal away and to restrict freedom of the press.”

According to the NS: “If some politicians are now re-inventing history to say that Parliament has ‘approved’ the Charter – in effect ‘legislating about it’ – then they are confirming that the Royal Charter is in fact statutory regulation.”

The NS believes that Parliament only approved a number of technical details on other bills such as a new clause in the Crime and Courts Bill introducing exemplary damages for newspapers within the regulator system.

The NS said there is no possibility of the press “defying” Parliament as it said this Royal Charter will belong to the Queen.

“It does not establish a regulator. The legislation Parliament passed on exemplary damages in the Crime and Courts Act 2013 is opposed by the press, which believes it is almost certainly illegal under European law, but until it is challenged and overturned in the courts the press will be forced to submit to it.

“It would then be for Parliament to repeal it. There is no question of ‘defying’ Parliament over it.”

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