Ian Burrell: The local papers that now live in fear of 'horrific bureaucracy'

Media Studies:

When we think of the victims of press abuses, the names that spring to mind are the likes of the actress Sienna Miller, the schoolteacher Chris Jefferies and, of course, the McCann and Dowler families.

The Royal Charter on press regulation, agreed by the three main political parties last week, has been seen as the measure which gave them a little revenge, by striking back at the newspapers which caused them so much distress. But in doing so it has created yet more innocent victims.

The hurt likely to be suffered by titles ranging from local weeklies, such as the Northampton Chronicle, to the homeless magazine The Big Issue and the children's paper First News, will not engender the same public sympathy as the personal sufferings of hacking victims but it could have critical consequences all the same.

As Britain's largest national newspaper groups went into a huddle with lawyers to prepare their response to a political settlement that has caused shock waves, it was the regional press which spoke most eloquently of the dangers.

The Chronicle set out its fears of the potentially catastrophic impact of plans to introduce a free arbitration system which will allow third-party complaints and financial recompense for errors. "The new proposals… will ultimately bring with them such horrific bureaucracy that there is a real risk that many editors will be submerged," it said. "Ultimately, anything contentious or remotely investigative will be open to such widespread challenge that our papers will be anaemic."

There was palpable anger in the words of Ian Murray, editor-in-chief of the Southampton-based Southern Daily Echo. "We have neither hacked into phones nor deliberately set out to deceive, compromise nor vilify, and yet we will be caught in this expensive, debilitating new regime, thought up by politicians and lawyers to impress the voters, curry favour with celebrities and let themselves off the hook."

Impress the voters? Two years before an election, political leaders who have courted the electorate by acting on the unquestionable current popular hostility toward the tabloid press may yet regret the clumsiness of their bartering.

It is not yet clear who has the most to lose. Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, who along with the campaign group Hacked Off were the principal architects of the deal, have made enemies in the local papers that can be so influential in marginal constituencies. Commenting on a "hole in 300 years of press freedom", the Devon-based Western Morning News said: "If Mr Clegg and Mr Miliband think that's a fair price for making David Cameron lose face, heaven help us." The Sheffield Star, which covers Mr Clegg's constituency, is also smarting. "The papers that will pay the price will be the trusted local press the length and breadth of Britain," it said.

But David Cameron may have lost out even more. He spent four months convincing the big newspaper groups that he understood their concerns, pledging not to cross a "Rubicon" of press statute. In the event, the stream was traversed while he was asleep. The Prime Minister woke up to claim victory for what Rupert Murdoch has denounced as a "holy mess". Murdoch's Wall Street Journal declared: "Thank heaven America escaped the controls of British Royal Charters and wrote the First Amendment."

The Royal Charter, which Mr Cameron hoped would be a get-out-of-jail-free card that enabled him to implement Lord Justice Leveson's proposals without recourse to law, has provoked the wrath of the four big Tory-supporting news organisations – the publishers of the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph, The Times and the Daily Express. Some ally the Prime Minister turned out to be.

No one buys the claim that this is not statutory control of the press. The papers that have expressed willingness to work with the charter (though they have reservations) are The Independent, The Guardian and the Financial Times, the same titles that campaigned hardest to expose tabloid abuses. They indicated before the charter's publication that they would accept a small amount of statute in order to reform a system that had clearly failed.

Outside that small group there is nothing but opposition. Periodicals such as The Spectator, the New Statesman and Private Eye are all refusing to join the system. The Economist has denounced it as a "rotten deal" and a "shameful hash".

Barry McIlheney, the chief executive of the Professional Publishers Association, which represents the magazine sector, fears that his members will become innocent victims of a sorry muddle.

Attempts are being made to exempt specialist titles – such as Practical Fishkeeping and Plastics & Rubber Weekly – from the burdens of the new regulator. But in an era when most magazines are trying to stay relevant between issues by releasing content online, it's not clear why they should fall outside the charter's broad definitions of a professional news publisher. "We are a bit confused by a system which appears to have been knocked together at 3 o'clock in the morning," says McIlheney.

Some 20 months after the Leveson inquiry was announced, we have a shambolic situation. But at least no one could argue that the press and the politicians are in cahoots.

Men lose battle of sexes at 'Mail on Sunday'

Do you remember the great battle of the sexes? Hordes of women and an army of men, charging at each other across a medieval battlefield to protect the honour of their favourite newspaper supplements?

I'm referring to that epic commercial, choreographed by advertising agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty, for the 2007 launch of the Mail on Sunday's magazine Live, based on the premise that male and female reading habits are fundamentally different.

Well, the battle is over and the fairer sex is triumphant. Either that, or the concept was flawed. Because while the female-skewed You magazine remains vital to the Mail on Sunday, the blokey Live is soon to be no more. Replacing it from 14 April is the gender-neutral Event, dedicated to celebrity and culture.

Women readers might celebrate all the more for the Mail on Sunday having simultaneously appointed Fleet Street's first female sports editor – Alison Kervin.

Event is clearly a significant statement from editor Geordie Greig, allowing him to make use of social connections he developed editing Tatler and to mine a literary contacts book that includes the likes of Tom Wolfe and Salman Rushdie.

The Event editor Gordon Thomson was much-admired when at the helm of Time Out. Although the magazine has been designed to look good on tablets it's also a rare but welcome investment in the more tactile pleasures of print.

If Television Centre isn't closing, why all the tears?

"Insipid, incestuous self-gratification" was how one viewer expressed annoyance at the BBC's endless farewells to its Television Centre in London's White City.

After bidding goodbye to the building on the Six O'Clock News, the local news, the BBC News Channel and in a dozen articles on the BBC website, the corporation allowed itself one more tearful send-off to an old workplace in a dedicated documentary on BBC Four on Friday evening. The effect was like "forcing holiday photos on someone", said a viewer online.

The valedictory coverage would not seem so odd if TVC – with its distinctive "doughnut" courtyard – was being bulldozed but in fact BBC managers have issued instructions that they intend to maintain it for "continued television production".

The mighty Studio 1, (one of the biggest in Britain), is being refurbished along with Studios 2 and 3. They will then be available to programme-makers from both inside and outside the BBC.

Studio 6, upgraded for HD as recently as 2008 and Britain's first 3D-capable studio, is to become office space for BBC Worldwide, the broadcaster's commercial arm.

So put those hankies away.

Twitter: @iburrell

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Web Developer - ASP.NET, C#, MVC - London

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Web Developer -...

Ashdown Group: .NET Developer : ASP.NET , C# , MVC , web development

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits - see advert: Ashdown Group: .N...

Guru Careers: 3D Package Designer / 3D Designer

£25 - 30K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an exceptional 3D Package Designer / 3...

Guru Careers: Interior Designer

£Competitive: Guru Careers: We are seeking a strong Middleweight / Senior Inte...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss