Editorial: Rights and wrongs of a Royal Charter

The Independent outlines its position on post-Leveson proposals

Share

This editorial will be published in the print edition of The Independent on Thursday March 21st

With reluctance, we have accepted the use of a Royal Charter to create a new, wholly independent regulator for the press. And with that same reluctance we have accepted the need for a line of statute to protect it from meddling. For all the histrionic claims of centuries of press freedom ended with the stroke of a pen, the reality is that a clause of law ensuring that the new rules cannot be arbitrarily altered by politicians, through the Privy Council’s traditional jurisdiction over royal charters, is a defence of the Fourth Estate rather than an encroachment upon it.

The tragedy, of course, is that such measures were ever necessary. Following the revelations of the phone-hacking scandal, however – capped by the Leveson Inquiry’s unedifying catalogue of privacy invaded, grieving parents hounded, and innocents smeared – it is not enough for newspapers simply to promise a cleaner future. Yet to acknowledge the general necessity of stricter oversight is not to acquiesce with every detail proposed. There have been wins for the press: that the new editorial code of conduct will be composed by journalists, for example. But the plans finally agreed upon by politicians this week are still far from perfect.

The proposal of an arbitration system to which any complainant – including third parties – have free access is cause for particular concern. With no potential cost to making a complaint, yet the chance of financial gain, the risk of mischief-making, even opportunism, is high. Nor are the implications simply vexatious, though that would be harmful enough. With much of the press – particularly local newspapers – already suffering financially from the rise of the internet, there is also a very real commercial danger here.

The plan for so-called “exemplary damages” is also problematic. Under the scheme suggested, organisations which refuse to sign up to the (voluntary) regulatory regime face extra-high fines if found guilty of libel or breaches of privacy. Indeed, even if found not guilty, the complainant’s costs might still have to be paid. Not only are there questions as to whether such measures are legally enforceable, with lawyers warning of a potential breach of the freedom of speech clauses in the Human Rights Act. The principle – of coerced membership – is one that sits uncomfortably in a free society.

As regards both arbitration and exemplary damages, there is still wriggle room. And it is here that attention must now focus. Elsewhere, though, it is time to bow to the inevitable.

Although much continues to be made of the press losing its veto over appointments to the regulator, the issue was never likely to be won. Worrying though the prospect of an unashamed press-basher inveigling their way onto the panel might appear to be, the failures of the newspaper-sponsored Press Complaints Commission were so egregious that the case for the industry continuing to mark its own homework could not be credibly made.

A similar logic pertains to the decision that the watchdog will be able to stipulate upon which page an apology must be run, rather than simply requiring it to be printed somewhere. While regrettable that the point was lost, it was nigh impossible to expect otherwise – given the palpable power imbalance between newspapers and those that complain of mistreatment at their hands.

On balance, then, while the outlines of the newly agreed regime seem a reasonable compromise, potentially critical flaws remain. And, behind the fulminations of some elements of the press, the fact remains that a new system is worthless if the majority refuse to participate.  The job, therefore, is not yet done.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

Maths Teacher

£22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The campaigning is over. So now we wait...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
In this handout provided by NASA from the the Earth-orbiting International Space Station, weather system Arthur travels up the east coast of the United States in the Atlantic Ocean near Florida in space. The robotic arm of the Space Station Remote Manipulator System or Canadarm2 is seen at upper right. According to reports, Arthur has begun moving steadily northward at around 5 kt. and the tropical storm is expected to strike the North Carolina Outer Banks  

Thanks to government investment, commercial space travel is becoming a reality

Richard Branson
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week