A 'quick fix' deal with Hacked Off could brush aside British press freedoms, says The Newspaper Society
The freedoms of British newspapers should not be ignored in favour of a "quick fix to come to a deal with Hacked Off", The Newspaper Society has told culture secretary Maria Miller in a letter on behalf of the country's regional and local newspapers.
Backing: Regional and local titles are supporting industry charter
The letter claimed the proposed government Royal Charter on press regulation punished regional and local newspapers and asked them to be part of an "expensive, burdensome regulatory structure".
Director of The Newspaper Society, David Newell, wrote in the letter: "I believe that Britain's 1,100 newspapers deserve a fair hearing before matters reach the Privy Council. Their freedoms and unique role and functions should not be brushed aside as a result of a quick fix to come to a deal with 'Hacked Off'."
The Newspaper Society said regional and local titles gave the alternative Industry Royal Charter proposal published last week their full backing and said the government had made no consultations with regional and local newspapers before publishing its proposal, which was met with concern from industry when released last month.
Newell continued: "The [government] Charter punishes regional and local newspapers for crimes and activities for which they have been found innocent and asks them to be part of an expensive, burdensome regulatory structure either as part of the whole industry or on their own.
"The deputy prime minister has suggested that the regional and local newspaper industry will have the flexibility to set up its own regulator which will meet its concerns and will, in effect, be 'charter lite'. There is nothing in the government's proposed Royal Charter which suggests that a regulator for the regional press will be able to act in such a way."
The letter said regional and local titles would be required to take part in the same way as other newspapers and magazines, including the arbitration scheme, a concern Newell said had been acknowledged by conservative ministers earlier in the year after regional and local titles highlighted the consequences of the costs.
"The industry's Royal Charter proposal was published on Thursday," he continued. "Contrary to suggestions made in some press coverage, regional and local newspaper and magazine publishers were fully involved in devising the draft Industry Royal Charter proposal and are in full support of it.
"Regional and local newspaper are custodians of freedom of speech and the freedom to publish in this country. Their views and concerns come from a historic perspective about relationships between the monarchy, parliamentary and local democracy, the community and the citizen. It is vital that that perspective is understood.
"The monarch's prerogative powers should not be used to impose a regulatory regime on regional and local newspapers without consultation and a genuine attempt to proceed by consent."
The Spectator and Private Eye were among the first papers to indicate they would refuse to sign up to the government's Royal Charter proposal last month, which aimed to implement change to the regulation of the press after the finding of the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics. News International, Telegraph Media Group, Trinity Mirror, Express Newspapers and Daily Mail owner Associated Newspapers were among big industry players involved in the alternative charter.
The move was condemned by campaign group for victims of the press, Hacked Off. A statement from the group said: "They are unilaterally rejecting the findings of a formal public inquiry that condemned newspapers for 'wreaking havoc in the lives of innocent people' and are threatening to set up a new regulator of their own that will inevitably be another industry poodle like the discredited Press Complaints Commission.
"Under such a system the public could have no confidence that their complaints would be dealt with impartially because, like the fatally flawed PCC, the new body would put the interests of editors before those of ordinary people with complaints."
Find out some of the differences between the government charter and the industry charter here