1) The Royal Charter is in place of legislation
The Leveson Report recommended that the press be left to set up their own self-regulatory body to replace the Press Complaints Commission. This regulator, it was then recommended, should be checked every two to three years to ensure that it is working properly. Leveson recommended that in order for this body to be effective, it would require the force of legislation.
The Prime Minister, in a decision that gained the overwhelming support of the press, decided that he was not prepared to use legislation in this manner. The Royal Charter was therefore used as another means of constituting an independent oversight body to verify whether the self-regulatory system set up by the press is working. To clarify – the Royal Charter does not set up the press regulator.
The primary purpose of the Royal Charter is to ensure that the Recognition Body is not set up via statute.
2) The backstop recognition body is not Ofcom
Leveson recommended in his report that the statutory body with responsibility for verifying whether self-regulation was working should be Ofcom. This was unacceptable to the press, due to Ofcom’s status as a body set up by legislation (the 2003 Communications Act).
Leveson recommended that Ofcom be given this role because it has expertise in many areas of media regulation. He feared that an entirely new body would be lack the ability or expertise to ensure that press regulation was monitored adequately.
The bulk of the rest of the Royal Charter, after setting up the Recognition Body, is to specify a robust system of checks and balances to make sure that this Body is entirely independent of politicians and the press (as Leveson believed Ofcom would be), with specifications for the nature of members, appointments, funding, and so on.
3) There are no specified consequences in the event that regulation fails to be set up
Leveson specified that, once a Recognition Body was set up, it was to report to Parliament whether the self-regulatory system set up by the press had succeeded or failed, either because it hadn’t been able to recognise a functioning regulator, or because a significant publisher remained outside the system.
In the event of failure, Leveson said, Ofcom should be given the job of regulating the press and specifying to whom regulations would apply.
The Royal Charter does not go nearly as far, and simply states that the Recognition Body reports on the success or failure of the self-regulatory system. It doesn’t specify any consequences if the system should fail.