The Press Royal Charter and Public Opinion

 

Yesterday several newspaper groups announced their own version of a Royal Charter to underpin press regulation. It differs in several important ways from the Royal Charter agreed by the main political parties and a majority of both Houses of Parliament after 18th March.

As this analysis shows, it also differs substantially from recent public opinion on press regulation.

 

1) An arbitration system will now be optional (Schedule 3, paragraph 22 of Press Charter)

In January and February 2013 a YouGov/Media Standards Trust poll asked how important the public judged “a fast and free arbitration system for people who feel they have been libelled or harassed by the press to use as an alternative to the courts”. The results were (N = 2,030 GB Adults):

  • Total important: 78% (43% ‘very important’)
  • Total not important: 8%
  • Don’t know: 14%

 

2) The regulator will no longer have the power to direct corrections and apologies (in fact, all references to ‘apologies’ have been removed from the Press Charter) with equal prominence to the original statement (Schedule 3, paragraph 15 of Press Charter)

An IPPR/YouGov poll in May 2012 asked:

To what extent would you support or oppose the following: “Requiring a newspaper to print a correction and/or an apology on the same page number as the original story if it reports something incorrectly, even if it is on the front page?” Results were (N=1,705)

  • Total support: 84% (60% ‘strongly’)
  • Total oppose: 1%
  • Neither support or oppose: 8%
  • Don’t know: 6%

Approximately 10 months later, on 19th March 2013, a poll run specifically by YouGov  asked the public:

“Do you support or oppose these features of the proposed system of press regulation: When newspapers print inaccurate statements, being told not just to publish corrections but where to print them (e.g. so that a major front page error has to be corrected on a future front page)?” Results were (N= 681):

  • Support: 81%
  • Oppose: 6%
  • Don’t know: 13%

 

3) Significant control over aspects of the regulatory system will remain in the hands of the press (a version of the current press funding body remains in control of funding; editors remain in almost total control of the code of practice; the appointments process of the recognition panel is less independent)

A YouGov/Hacked Off poll in October 2012 asked the public whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement: “After the phone hacking scandal it is no longer acceptable for newspaper owners and editors to control the system for dealing with complaints about press behaviour.” Results were (N=2,846):

  • Total Agree: 77%
  • Total Disagree: 5%
  • Neither agree or disagree: 12%
  • Don’t know: 5%

Shortly afterwards, in November 2012 a ComRes/BBC 5 Live poll (N=1,002) asked something similar: “Who would you most like to see regulate newspapers in Britain?”

  • A regulatory body with rules agreed and enforced by newspaper owners: 12%
  • A regulatory body with rules agreed and enforced by the courts: 47%
  • Something else: 33%
  • Don’t know: 8%

This was followed in January-February 2013 by a YouGov/Media Standards Trust poll, which asked: “How much confidence would you have in… A press regulator set up voluntarily by the newspapers, without any legal backing?” Results were (N=2,030):

  • Total a lot/fair amount of confidence: 12%
  • Total not much/no confidence: 73%
  • Don’t know: 14%

A separate poll by YouGov/Media Standards Trust in November 2012 (N=3,620) asked readers of different selected newspapers about their attitude on how regulation should be organised. The option “Newspapers should establish their own body which deals with complaints and decides what sanctions there should be if journalists break agreed codes of conduct” was chosen in the following proportions:

  • Daily Mail/Scottish Daily Mail: 12%
  • Daily Mirror/Daily Record: 9%
  • Sun: 12%
  • Telegraph: 15%
  • Times: 14%

 

4) The Royal Charter’s independence would no longer be underpinned by law

The YouGov/IPPR poll from May 2012 (referenced above, N=1,705) asked the public: “what type of regulation, if any, would you prefer to see?”

  • Through a legally-established body: 62%
  • Through self-regulation: 19%
  • No regulation: 3%
  • Don’t know: 17%

Hacked Off’s October 2012 YouGov poll (N=2,846) asked: “Which of the following statements comes closer to you view on how you think newspapers in Britain should be regulated?”

  • Independent body, established by law: 78%
  • Newspapers’ own body: 10%
  • Neither: 4%
  • Don’t know: 7%

This was followed by the YouGov/Media Standards Trust poll in November 2012 (N=3,620), which repeated the question:

  • Independent body, established by law: 79%
  • Newspapers’ own body: 9%
  • Neither: 4%
  • Don’t know: 8%

A YouGov/Sunday Times poll in November-December 2012 immediately after the publication of the Leveson Report asked a similar question, with an emphasis on the creation of new laws: “Do you believe there should or should not be new laws, passed by MPs, to encourage newspapers to join this new system of regulation?” Results were (N=1,773):

  • New laws should be passed by MPs to encourage newspapers to join this new system of regulation: 58%
  • New laws should NOT be passed by MPs to encourage newspapers to join this new system of regulation: 26%
  • Don’t know: 15%

This question was repeated in the poll by YouGov in March 2013 (N=681), demonstrating very little change despite a concerted press campaign to discredit the idea of any Parliamentary involvement:

  • New laws should be passed by MPs to encourage newspapers to join this new system of regulation: 55%
  • New laws should NOT be passed by MPs to encourage newspapers to join this new system of regulation: 26%
  • Don’t know: 19%

Shortly prior to this, the January-February 2013 YouGov/Media Standards Trust poll asked: “Thinking about the need to ensure independent and effective regulation of the press, and the need to protect press freedom, which of the following best reflects your view?” Results were (N=2,030):

  • For press regulation to be effective and independent it needs to be backed up by a law: 52%
  • Any regulation of the press backed by a law would risk the freedom of the press and political interference: 23%
  • Neither: 8%
  • Don’t know: 16%

Readers of the different newspapers were also polled in the YouGov/Media Standards Trust poll of November 2012, who chose the option “There should be an independent body, established by law, which deals with complaints and decides what sanctions there should be if journalists break agreed codes of conduct” in the following proportions:

  • Daily Mail/Scottish Daily Mail: 81%
  • Daily Mirror/Daily Record: 81%
  • Sun: 74%
  • Telegraph: 76%
  • Times: 77%

 

5) The Press Royal Charter will replace the March 18th Royal Charter in full

The YouGov poll of 19th March 2013 asked respondents: “Parliament has voted to support a new system, governed by a Royal Charter, to regulate newspapers. Newspapers will not be forced to join the new system, but will have some advantages if they do (such as paying smaller damages when they are found guilty of libel). From what you know, do you think the vote to establish the new system is…”

  • The right decision: 43%
  • The wrong decision: 23%
  • Don’t know: 25%

This was followed a few days later by the YouGov/Sunday Times poll of 21-22 March 2013, which asked: “Do you support or oppose the proposed new press regulation system?”

  • Support: 52%
  • Oppose: 23%
  • Don’t know: 25%