Newspaper Society statement backs prime minister David Cameron's Royal Charter proposal after Leveson talks reach dead end

By Angela Haggerty, Reporter

March 14, 2013 | 5 min read

The Newspaper Society group of leading industry figures has backed prime minister David Cameron after cross-party press regulation talks broke down.

Royal charter: The prime minister's will publish proposals on Monday

The prime minister announced he would publish plans for a Royal Charter on Monday to establish a tougher press regulator after the reform discussions ended without progress. A statement from the Newspaper Society said: "We share the prime minister's frustration at the way in which talks about the future of press regulation have broken down and legislation has been hijacked.

"We agree with the prime minister that matters cannot be allowed to drift on and that we need now to deliver real change."

The Leveson report called for an independent press watchdog supported by UK legislation, a proposal which was backed by the Conservatives' coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, and Labour. A breakthrough in the cross-party talks had been expected until the news was announced in a press conference by David Cameron, a development which Labour said was an "historic mistake". Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman last month called the Conservatives' Royal Charter proposal a shabby deal doomed to fail.

"The prime minister is right to reject statutory regulation of the press - free of political control for 300 years - as fundamentally wrong in principle and unworkable in practice," the statement continued. "The industry has spent many weeks in negotiating a new independent system of self-regulation, based on the Leveson principles, which provides £1m fines and the toughest system of regulation in the western world."

The government was accused by the NUJ last month of side-lining journalists and victims and siding with newspapers over the need to establish a press regulator governed by Royal Charter, saying the "… clear attempt by the Government to exclude journalists, press victims and the public from playing any part in future regulation will doom it to the same ineffectiveness as the Press Complaints Commission before it."

However, the Newspaper Society - which includes members such as Paul Dacre of the Daily Mail Group, Murdoch MacLennan of the Telegraph Group, John Witherow of News International and Barry McIlheney of the Professional Publishers' Association - said the industry had made concessions: "We have made major concessions in order to reach agreement," said the statement, "although there are elements of the proposed reforms - such as exemplary damages - to which we remain opposed. However, this need not stop a new regulator being put in place."

Brian Cathcart, director of pressure group for press regulatory reform, Hacked Off, said the prime minister's decision to end the talks was "a shameless betrayal of the victims of press abuse", adding: "David Cameron is trying to portray this as an issue of press freedom. No serious person believes that the Leveson recommendations on press regulation pose any threat to freedom of expression."

The Newspaper Society statement stated its intention to get the new regulator up and running: "The UK’s newspaper and magazine publishing industry will rise to the challenge. We are ready to move with speed to establish a new system of tough, independent, effective self regulation which delivers fully on the Leveson principles and will provide real protection for members of the public. We will aim to get the new regulator up and running as soon as possible."

Last week, signatories including Stephen Fry, Sir Salman Rushdie, Sir Tom Stoppard, William Boyd, Margaret Drabble and Ian McEwan published an open letter calling on the three main party leaders to ensure proposed libel reforms in England would not be overshadowed by the Leveson report and expressed concern over amendments to the bill made by Lord Puttnam, warning: "If the law is not reformed, bullies will continue to be able to prevent the publication of stories that are often not only in the public interest, but a matter of public health and safety."


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