Media Standards Trust statement on Royal Charter

MST welcomes the agreement of a Royal Charter on self-regulation of the press but calls for a British equivalent of the First Amendment

The Media Standards Trust welcomes the agreement of a Royal Charter on Wednesday 30th October to establish a recognition body and a recognition process for independent self-regulation of the press.

We did not support the use of a Royal Charter to establish a recognition body, and made this clear when it was first proposed. Rather, we supported Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendation to use legislation to give authority to the recognition body.

However, we appreciate that a Royal Charter was proposed in order to assuage newspapers’ concerns and that it was the government’s intention to put Leveson’s recommendations into practice without using legislation.

The MST has closely analysed each of the eight versions of the Royal Charter published since December 2012. This analysis (which can be found here) clearly shows that the final Royal Charter, agreed on 30th October 2013, is very close to the recommendations made by Lord Justice Leveson in his report of 29th November 2012.

This final Charter is significantly closer to Leveson’s recommendations than the first published draft of the Royal Charter, of February 12th 2013. It is far closer than the industry’s PressBoF Charter submitted to the Privy Council in April 2013 (as shown by this analysis).

The final Charter creates a framework that ensures that no recognized regulator can be established that can stop anyone from publishing anything. At the same time it ensures that any recognized regulator will have to work for the public as well as the press.

We welcome the inclusion, in the final Charter, of a clear independent lock on any future changes. Any future change must be unanimously approved by the Recognition Panel, approved by a two thirds majority of the House of Commons, and approved by a two thirds majority of the House of Lords (and, where relevant, approved by the Scottish Parliament).

This protection from change is coupled with protection from political interference in the  Charter. Section 96 of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 protects the Charter from interference by Ministers and Privy Councillors. Separately, the Charter  itself excludes all politicians from the Recognition Panel, from its staff, from its appointments panel and from any regulators’ Board.

The system established by this Royal Charter does not represent a threat to press freedom. There are, however, other threats to press freedom. There is still, for example, no general public interest defence in law, as we called for in our submission to the Leveson Inquiry. Terrorism laws, not intended for use against the media, are being used by the government against the media.

For this reason we renew our call for the government to introduce the protection for press freedom in law that Lord Justice Leveson recommended in his report. Leveson wrote:

‘In passing legislation to identify the legitimate requirements to be met by an independent regulator organised by the press, and to provide for a process of recognition and review of whether those requirements are and continue to be met, the law should also place an explicit duty on the Government to uphold and protect the freedom of the press’ (Vol.IV, p.1,807)

To show its commitment to press freedom, and to protect the press from threats already inherent in existing laws, the government should, we believe, accept Leveson’s recommendation and introduce Britain’s equivalent to the First Amendment.