The newspaper industry’s new regime

Ministers yesterday overcame a final hurdle on the way to implementing their Royal Charter concerning press regulation. Royal Assent can now be requested, but what it will achieve in practice is up for debate.

The Court of Appeal yesterday put an end to the latest appeal brought by the newspaper industry against a proposed Royal Charter on press regulation. Newspaper publishers wanted to acquire an injunction against ministers seeking to gain the Queen’s approval of the charter.

Under the new scheme the Press Complaints Commission will be replaced with a more powerful regulator, with no current industry editors to sit on its panel. The new regulator will handle complaints against the press, establish a new code of conduct and will be able to impose fines of up to £1m for breaching this code.

The Privy Council, consisting of government ministers who formally advise the Queen, had earlier rejected the press industry’s own version of the charter. Their reasoning was that it did not comply with the Leveson Inquiry’s call for greater regulatory independence and more access to arbitration when things go wrong.

A spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has stated that the proposed charter is "the best framework" and "the way forward" for press regulation. But the industry disagrees, stating the charter’s content and its route to assent were "unfair and unlawful". This was pursued and the group took legal action, but the High Court ruled there were no grounds for judicial review. The Court of Appeal subsequently supported this ruling.

Even though the Royal Charter is free to be approved by Her Majesty, the issue is that under the new regulatory regime, media organisations will have a choice as to whether they sign up or not. This begs the question: will it even work? The newspaper industry is against it, and they can opt out of its jurisdiction. It seems questions remain as to whether the objectives of the charter will be achieved at all.

The possibility of a new and powerful regulator, with nothing to regulate, is one that no one would welcome. It seems a balance between allowing a free press, whilst permitting impartial and proportionate oversight of the industry, is yet to be struck. 

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