Letter from minister expected 'shortly' to create press regulation Recognition Panel

The Commissioner for Public Appointments Sir David Normington has revealed he is expecting to receive a minister’s letter “shortly” which will start the process of creating a press regulation Recognition Panel.

This is the body which will decide whether or not any new press regulator meets the criteria set out in the Royal Charter for the self regulation of the press which granted by the Government on 30 October.

Any regulator which does meet the specification of the Royal Charter will also fail to protect its members from the threat of punitive damages in civil legal actions under the Crime and Courts Act.

Most major national and regional newspapers, and many magazine companies, have signed up to the Independent Press Standards Organisation which is set to be up and running by 1 May next year. IPSO is unlikely to get official recognition because it is seen as falling short on independence and on the provision of a system of libel arbitration.

A rival system of regulation has been proposed by a group calling itself Impress which more closely follows the Royal Charter – but it has yet to attract any funding.

Normington’s office this week issued an update on the setting up of the Recognition Panel saying: “Although the Royal Charter has been granted, the Commissioner does not, as yet, have the legal powers to undertake the functions set out for him in the Charter.  Article 4 of the Public Appointments Order in Council 2013 provides the mechanism by which the Commissioner can be given these additional functions. This involves a Minister writing asking him to take on additional functions, and for him to respond agreeing to the request.

"Until this exchange of letters takes place the Commissioner cannot begin the process of appointing the Board of the Recognition Panel.  We anticipate the commissioning letter will be issued shortly.”

The setting up of the Recognition Panel is being funded by the Cabinet Office but the Commissioner insists it can still be independent.

"There are plenty of examples of other regulators who are funded – and in some cases appointed – by the Government yet still operate fully independently. The Commissioner was asked to undertake these functions because of his independence and because the credibility of the appointments made to the Board of the Recognition Panel demands that they are made in a way that is entirely independent of Government and the oversight of Ministers."

According to director of the Newspaper Society and Newspaper Publishers Association David Newell, this week’s revelations from Normington are more evidence of “worrying” Government involvement in press regulation.

He said: "It is deeply worrying that such a naked ‘Yes, Minister’ arrangement lies at the very core of the Government’s Royal Charter. It is also very worrying that the Commissioner is to be expected to compromise his independence by using the executive power of the state to begin the process of imposing a Government-created Recognition Panel on an industry which has universally rejected it.

"We trust he will think very hard indeed, and consult the industry, before acceding to this request."

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