On Wednesday, the government's Royal Charter on press regulation of the UK press industry was passed by the Privy Council and signed by the Queen. The event ended months of disagreement and negotiation between government and industry which ultimately ended in a stand off, and heralded the beginning of the next phase of the UK press industry's battle against what it says is a threat to free press and British democracy. The Drum took a look at the reaction to the latest development.
There is now the prospect that press regulation will become a Mexican stand-off in which no authority is recognised. Or that two parallel systems will run, one with the imprimatur of the Royal Charter and one without. Either way, it is a mess entirely of the making of a political class that seeks control of an unruly press. The politicians urge the press to comply on the ground that they have reached a consensus among themselves. This calls to mind Mrs Thatcher’s definition of a consensus as “the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values, and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects”. Only this time it is important to raise the objections loud and clear. A press free from political interference is a precious inheritance. It cannot be compromised by the injudicious use of a medieval instrument that nobody wants.
The Daily Telegraph
The question of how our press is regulated is a question of how best to defend free speech. It is about ensuring that responsible newspapers have the freedom to publish what they wish and that the public have the freedom to read what we publish. That is why we cannot accept the current proposals for regulation by statute.The Guardian’s recent investigation into state spying is exactly the kind of reporting that could spark a moral panic among politicians and give them cause to limit what the press can publish. If Parliament can find the numbers to impose a Royal Charter upon the industry, it can also find the numbers necessary to censor it. It is, therefore, unsurprising that publishers are refusing to endorse the Royal Charter – or that The Daily Telegraph is among them.
The Daily Mail
Foreigners visiting Britain yesterday were offered a fascinating insight into the workings of our so-called modern democracy – supposedly home to justice, free speech and the rule of law. As the Mail argued on Saturday, the system embodied in this document is emphatically not the ‘voluntary, independent, self-regulation’ proposed by Lord Justice Leveson. It is neither voluntary nor self-regulated, since it is backed by statute and no national newspaper supports it. Far from independent, it will give politicians the final say on what may and may not be printed. Incredibly, it opens the way for punitive legal costs to be awarded against papers cleared of all wrongdoing in libel actions. Thus, when a corrupt MP sues a paper for accurately exposing his corruption, the paper will be forced to pay him for suing, even though he has lost his case. So much for the home of justice, transparency and due process of law.
Britain has become a nation in which justice operates in secret. Like a thief in the night. Politicians belonging to a medieval institution known as the Privy Council last night rubber-stamped a Royal Charter to allow them to regulate the Press. We couldn’t even tell you which ministers were involved until the government finally bowed to pressure and revealed their names.More than three centuries of press freedom were signed away by men and women behind closed doors, operating in the sovereign’s name. The process has more in common with tyranny than a nation that founded parliamentary government.
The Daily Mirror
The death warrant for press freedom was signed yesterday by four politicians meeting in private in a royal palace.For more than 300 years British newspapers have operated outside the control of the state. That ended last night as a stroke of the Queen's pen sealed a royal charter on press regulation backed by all three main political parties.
The Guardian, the Independent and the FT have not yet released editorial comments on the signing of the Royal Charter. However, the Guardian’s editorial on 28 October set out its position.
The Guardian, almost uniquely, has been talking to everyone throughout. We continue to meet with all three main political parties, and to have a dialogue with all newspaper groups, just as we do with Hacked Off, the pressure group representing many victims of press intrusion. We don't like charters and consider the press's own alternatives for both setting up and recognising regulation insufficiently independent. We, along with the FT and the Independent, would prefer our colleagues in the press to agree to a more robustly independent regulator. Others would like us to create a rival regulator. But we are unpersuaded that having a broadsheet-only auditor solves anything.
Despite desperate last-minute sabotage attempts by the big newspaper companies, the Royal Charter on press self-regulation received its final approval yesterday evening. This means that, 11 long months after the Leveson Inquiry made its recommendations, change can actually begin. It will be a slow business and there are still many arguments to be won and minds to be changed, but this is a big milestone on the way to better protection for the public from the kinds of press abuses that made the Inquiry necessary.
Reaction from Twitter