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The draft Royal Charter on press regulation, unveiled

By Peter Hoskin
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So here it is: the draft Royal Charter by which David Cameron hopes to avoid statutory regulation of the press. It’s rather a dry read, setting out, as it does, the creation of a “Recognition Panel” to oversee—and, in theory, validate—any regulator that the press might establish themselves. There are sections on the appointments process, on the annual accounts, on the terms used in the charter, on the … zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

And yet, as soporific as it is, this Royal Charter has the potential to be a firework of a document. It is the only firm proposal to emerge from the cross-party talks so far, and will inform much of what follows. It’s now up to Labour and the Lib Dems to agree to it, to call for changes, or to reject it wholesale.

Although I can’t pretend to have a firm grasp on everything contained in the Charter—particularly after just a single skim-read—it does seem that it could fall between competing impulses. For those who want to see the Leveson proposals implemented uncomplicatedly and in full, it probably doesn’t do enough. But for those who worry about politicians interfering in the press, it could well do too much.

There are, for instance, provisions to involve Parliament in the event that the Charter is amended or wound up. There’s another which allows the Recognition Panel the “power” to fine media organisations up to £1 million, which raises the question of just where that power comes from. And then there's the very nature of Royal Charters, which are steered and implemented by Government.  

The early response to the document has pointed more towards “this doesn’t do enough”. Hacked Off have already decried it as “a surrender to press pressure,” and set out five problems they have with it. And the Lib Dems have joined them, saying that it “won’t do the job those affected and Leveson wanted”.

Much will now depend on Labour, who seem to be taking a slower, more circumspect approach. Some in No.10 hope—even expect—that Ed Miliband will come round to the idea of a Royal Charter in principle, even if he disagrees with some of the specifics of this draft. If that happens, it will be hard for Nick Clegg to stand in the way of one by himself.

5.45pm update: Ah, actually, it seems as though Labour may not be coming round to anything. Harriet Harman has just spoken to BBC News, and said "We think Leveson’s report must be implemented not watered down". If they are genuinely against a Royal Charter, it's difficult to see how this situation can be resolved swiftly and peaceably.


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