The press’ alternative Charter – neither independent nor Leveson

 

Last Thursday, three large newspaper groups (Associated/News International/Telegraph Group) put forward an alternative Royal Charter (pdf attached).

This was presented as being closer to Leveson than the agreed Royal Charter of 18th March, and more independent. Our analysis has found it to be further from Leveson’s recommendations than any previous versions of the Charter, and to be neither independent from the press nor from politicians.

The most important changes in this alternative 25th April Charter include: making arbitration – Leveson’s central plank – optional; reducing the power of the regulator to direct corrections or apologies and; making the Press funding body the key source of power.

Claire Enders came to a similar conclusion to this in a piece published at the LSE and on The Guardian here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/apr/28/industry-proposed-royal-charter-leveson

Below are 10 key differences between the press’ alternative Charter and the one agreed on 18th March.

 

The Press Charter – 10 key differences from Royal Charter agreed on 18th March

 

1. Arbitration is optional

In the Associated/NewsIntl/Telegraph Charter there is no requirement to provide an arbitration scheme, one of the central recommendations of the Leveson regulatory recommendations (Schedule 3, #22)

 

2. The Press Board of Finance (PressBof) is written into the Charter and has a great deal of power

  • The Charter is granted to PressBof: (p.1)
  • Members of PressBof make up the initial Recognition Panel (p.2, 1.1)
  • PressBof/Industry Funding Body has veto on amendments to Charter (p.4)
  • PressBof/Industry Funding Body has veto on dissolving the Charter (p.5)
  • PressBof funds the Recognition Panel on an annual basis: (p.5)

 

3. The regulator has much less power to direct corrections or apologies

The regulator will, like the current PCC, be in the position of negotiating what sort of remedial action is suitable and have far less power to say what, how or where a correction or apology should be published (Schedule 3, 15 & 16)

 

4. Editors are in almost total control of the Code of Practice

Journalists will be excluded, and the role of the public will be reduced significantly (p.14, schedule 3)

 

5. There is no guarantee investigations will be funded or effective

They are not required to be ‘simple and credible’ (as in 18th March Charter). There is no requirement for a ring-fenced investigations fund. The recognition panel cannot use its judgment to assess the effectiveness of investigation

 

6. The appointments process (of the Recognition Panel) is far less independent

  • The Commissioner for Public Appointments no longer has control of process or appointment.
  • The Chair (who has to be a retired Supreme Court Judge) appoints the other members (this was to be done by Commissioner for Public Appointments).
  • One member of the (4 person) appointments committee has to be agreed with the PressBof/Industry Funding Body (p.7, 2.3).
  • Party political peers can be members of this appointments committee (they cannot in 18th March version).
  • Members of the recognition panel serve only 2 years not 5 years – considerably increasing turnover and ability to influence appointments

 

7. Politicians can play a role on both the recognition Panel and Board of the Regulator, unlike in 18th March Charter

The bar on Party political peers from the recognition panel and the Board of the regulator has been removed (see p.8, 3.3 and Schedule 3:5)

 

8. The Recognition Panel cannot use its judgment to see whether the regulator is independent and effective

Instead, it is bound strictly to the recognition criteria (p.11, Schedule 2:1 vs 18th March)

 

9. It removes the obligation for the regulator to:

  • Provide a whistleblowing hotline;
  • Provide guidance on the public interest;
  • Or provide general advice to the public about the Code and privacy issues (Schedule 3, 8A-8D in 18th March Charter)

 

10. It will be very difficult indeed for third parties to complain

A third party complaint has to be a ‘significant’ code breach, there has to be ‘substantial’ public interest, and it has to qualify for ‘formal’ consideration. This is a higher hurdle than PCC (Schedule 3, 11)

 

Read the Press Royal Charter (25th April) here: Press Royal Charter 25-04-13 (.pdf)

Read the March 18th Royal Charter here: 18th March Royal Charter (.pdf)