Stalemate: It is time for some sensible compromise on the vexed question of press regulation

To ignore the Royal Charter would mock the very democracy the press claims to guard

Share

The likelihood that a new press watchdog would be established without a rumpus was never high. Yet the spectacle of Westminster and (much of) Fleet Street in a stand-off over differences that are – posturing aside – far from substantial is still an unedifying one. It is high time for some sensible compromise.

The prospects are not encouraging. Earlier this week, newspaper industry plans were rejected by the Privy Council on the grounds that they fell short of the recommendations of the Leveson inquiry. Today, the Government will publish the final version of its own proposal, with the Royal Charter at its heart, to be sent to the Queen for signature on 30 October. Thus far, though, several powerful publishers have dug in their heels, leaving just a few weeks to persuade them to sign up.

Considered dispassionately, the relatively minor differences between the two schemes would suggest an easy deal. But this is a far from dispassionate topic. It was crassly foolish to have representatives of Hacked Off at the late-night pizza session where politicians’ plans were drafted. The result is that, seven months on, talk of a calculated assault on hundreds of years of press freedom is as feverish as ever.

In a last-minute attempt to make the Royal Charter scheme more palatable, it has been tweaked in several important areas. Arbitration may now come with a small fee to deter the vexatious. Third-party complaints – from pressure groups, for example – could also only be admissible if they pertain to matters of “significant public interest”. There are moves, too, to ensure the committee setting the editorial code is not hijacked by press-bashers.

Such changes are welcome, even if not all the industry’s criticisms have been addressed (most notably that concerning the emendation of the Royal Charter by a two-thirds majority in Parliament). The regulatory regime remains voluntary, however – albeit with sanctions for non-participants – and little will be achieved if larger publishing groups refuse to play ball.

The Independent is, of course, committed to press freedom. It is no contradiction to accept the overwhelming evidence that the industry has been marking its own homework for too long. Between the failures of the Press Complaints Commission and the shameful misconduct of some journalists, the status quo is no longer defensible. And there is also a broader question here. The Royal Charter has cross-party support and follows a judicial inquiry; simply to ignore it risks making a mockery of the very democracy of which the press considers itself the guardian. 

It would be as well to reach a solution quickly. The phone-hacking trials are due to start imminently, raising the prospect of yet more damaging revelations and calls for yet more draconian reform. Given that politicians have made concessions in some key areas, it is perhaps now time for the industry to do the same.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Argyll Scott International: FP&A Manager Supply Chain

Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Argyll Scott is recruiting for a Permane...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property NQ+

£30000 - £50000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: COMMERCIAL PROPERTY SOLI...

Argyll Scott International: Retail Commercial Finance Analyst

Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Due to further expansion, a leading inte...

Langley James : Senior Technician; Promotion & Training Opp; Borough; upto £32k

£27000 - £32000 per annum + training: Langley James : Senior Technician; Promo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands in Shanghai  

Is Russia and China’s ‘Nato of the East’ more than a Potemkin alliance?

Nigel Morris
A petition calling for Natalie Bennett, the leader of the Green Party, to be included has been signed by nearly 200,000 people  

Let me list the reasons that the Green Party should definitely not be allowed into the TV election debates...

Mark Steel
US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines
Will Smith's children have made waves with a gloriously over-the-top interview, but will their music match their musings?

What are Jaden and Willow on about?

Will Smith's children have made waves with a gloriously over-the-top interview, but will their music match their musings?
Fridge gate: How George Osborne keeping his fridge padlocked shows a frosty side to shared spaces

Cold war

How George Osborne keeping his fridge padlocked shows a frosty side to shared spaces
Stocking fillers: 10 best loo books

Stocking fillers: 10 best loo books

From dogs in cars to online etiquette, while away a few minutes in peace with one of these humorous, original and occasionally educational tomes
Malky Mackay appointed Wigan manager: Three texts keep Scot’s rehabilitation on a knife-edge

Three texts keep Mackay’s rehabilitation on a knife-edge

New Wigan manager said all the right things - but until the FA’s verdict is delivered he is still on probation, says Ian Herbert
Louis van Gaal: the liberal, the enemy and... err, the poet

Louis van Gaal: the liberal, the enemy and... err, the poet

‘O, Louis’ is the plaintive title of a biography about the Dutchman. Ian Herbert looks at what it tells us about the Manchester United manager