Independent and Evening Standard content director Chris Blackhurst has claimed that “senior politicians” have urged newspaper editors to establish their own regulator outside of the auspices of a Royal Charter.
Blackhurst told BBC Radio 4’s The Media Show that politicians, whom he would not identify but described as “household names”, had called him and other editors to “go alone”.
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The calls came, according to Blackhurst, despite the three main Westminster political parties already having agreed a Royal Charter on press regulation due to be considered this autumn.
He told Media Show presenter Steve Hewlett: “While the politicians have been promising the Royal Charter, I have had phone calls from senior politicians saying: ‘Why don’t you go alone and form your own regulator?’
“I know, talking to other editors, they have had similar calls. That makes it very confusing.”
He accused politicians of “a lack of clarity” over their post-Leveson plans for press regulation.
The three-party Royal Charter cannot be put before the Queen’s Privy Council until after the body has considered an alternative Royal Charter presented earlier this summer by the newspaper and magazine industry.
While many politicians and press regulation pressure group Hacked Off have urged the Government to adopt the Parliament-backed Royal Charter, Blackhurst said such a move may not break the impasse between Parliament and the leading newspaper groups.
“It’s all very well the politicians saying the Royal Charter will go through, but there’s always the possibility that some of the larger groups won’t go through with it and then what are we left with?
“The best thing that should happen is that all the interestsed parties are got together round a table and this thing is thrashed out once and for all. Until that happens I’m not sure I can see a way through this.”
Blackhurst also expressed concerns with the new self-regulator, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), proposed by leading newspaper groups last month.
He echoed comments from The Guardian, which this week rejected the new regulator, about the role of the Regulatory Funding Committee – specifically the proposal that it would have the power to limit the amount of money spent on investigations.
“I would like to see it confined to purely providing the finance and not going anywhere beyond that,” said Blackhurst. “I would like this regulator to have total freedom.”
Asked whether he would advise Independent proprietor Evgeny Lebedev to sign up to IPSO, Blackhurst said: “My advice would be to hold fire.”
If the newspaper and magazine industry does create a regulator which is not rubber-stamped by a Royal Charter-backed recognition body it will not protect members from the threat of exemplary damages as set out in the Crime and Courts Act 2013.