Would Government have stomach to nationalise press regulator if its solution is beyond the pale for owners?

Is a deal on a legislation-backed Royal Charter to regulate the press close to being signed?

After cross-party talks at leadership level yesterday (which are ongoing today) Ian Burrell at The Independent reports that the answer may be yes.

The sticking points are – apparently – two compromises negotiated with the Conservatives to get press owners to sign up to the charter plan.

As it stands the press industry has a representative on the Recognition Panel which would be created by the Royal Charter to licence any future press regulator. This is apparently something which Labour opposes.

(I'm sorry to be so sketchy, but ever since Sir Brian Leveson flew off to Australia at the end of November negotiations between politicians and publishers about the future off press regulation have been shrouded in more secrecy than the current discussions at the Sistine Chapel.)

Labour and the Lib Dems also apparently want the Royal Charter to be backed by a simple piece of legislation – an amendment to an existing bill which would safeguard it from future tampering by stating that a two-thirds majority of both houses of Parliament would be need to change it.

Burrell quotes a Government source:

“If the Labour Party felt it was absolutely necessary to have that written into a piece of existing government legislation, then we are not going to die in a ditch with it. It’s still a Royal Charter without statute.”

He also reports that the Recognition Panel will have no press industry members.

This fits in with the Leveson recommendations which state that it should be independent of Parliament, government and the press.

Meanwhile The Guardian was reporting this morning that a settlement is still some way off.

But this afternoon it suggested that legislation could be tabled on Monday protecting all Royal Charters from ministerial interference.

My hunch is that the game is up and that the Tories now have to concede a fully independent Recognition Panel and a legislative element lest the rest of their legislative agenda be permanently halted by Leveson-amendments.

A significant revolt yesterday on behalf of the Independent, FT and Guardian to back those two concessions breaks the previously united position of the press industry against statutory involvement in press regulation.

This debate over the Recognition Panel may become irrelevant.

Lord Hunt said last week that he was pressing ahead with the creation of a Leveson-compliant press regulator which should be up and running by July.

If it really does fulfil the central Leveson requirements of independence and effectiveness than it will have nothing to fear from any reasonably-constituted Recognition Panel (legally underpinned or otherwise).

Lord Hunt and the press owners are evidently frustrated by the political dithering and keen to move ahead and plough their own furrow.

The question now is if the Government presses on with press regulation legislation which is beyond the pale for press owners what sanction does it have?

The Leveson recommendations only work if consensus can be found between the Government and press owners. Without it does the Government really have the stomach to effectively nationalise regulation of the press at some point further down the line?

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