A tale of two charters

By Media Reform Coalition / Saturday March 16, 2013 Read More
Last Thursday, Cameron walked out of cross-party talks on Leveson and announced a vote on Monday on the Royal Charter proposal he’s backing (published here). The next day, an alternative Royal Charter supported by politicians from all parties was also published online. On Monday, our representatives will have a chance to vote on both of these proposals. Hacked Off is calling for people to write to their MPs to urge them to support the cross-party charter,  and the Media Reform Coalition is supporting this for the reasons outlined below. Both Royal Charters will set up a Recognition Panel to oversee the new press regulator which will replace the PCC. However, there are some crucial differences between the two proposals which make the cross-party charter a significantly better reflection of Leveson’s proposals than Cameron’s. Some of these differences relate to the way that Royal Charters are set up, some to the workings of the Recognition Panel and some to the requirements that will be placed on the regulator. Here are the top 5 reasons that MPs should choose the cross-party charter on Monday: 1. The cross-party charter will be more independent Under Cameron’s charter, the press industry will have a veto over membership of the board of the self-regulatory body, ensuring that it’s their cronies who end up sitting on it. The cross-party charter doesn’t allow this veto. Cameron’s charter also gives editors almost complete control over the Code of Practice which newspapers have to abide by (the current Code is here), whereas the cross-party charter gives a panel of journalists, serving editors and members of the public responsibility for the Code. 2. The cross-party charter can only be changed by Parliament, not ministers Cameron’s Royal Charter can be changed by a handful of cabinet ministers, who could use this power to promote the interests of their friends in the press, or damage their enemies. Not exactly independent! If the cross-party charter wins, we’re told it will be accompanied by a law that says that all new Royal Charters can only be changed by a majority in both houses of Parliament. 3. The cross-party charter is more flexible The charter we’re supporting contains a number of improvements on Cameron’s inflexible proposal. There will be periodic reviews of the regulation process which will include public consultations, and the Recognition Panel can use its judgement in deciding whether the regulator is fulfilling Leveson’s principles, rather than just ticking boxes. There’s also a back up plan for the Desmond problem (where a major newspaper walks out of the regulator) which is missing from Cameron’s charter. 4. The cross-party charter will handle complaints more effectively – and actually make decisions! Cameron’s charter doesn’t allow the regulator to direct the placement of apologies – so if a newspaper has falsely accused you of murder on its front page it could still bury its retraction on page 33. The cross-party charter allows the regulator to make direct where an apology should go so it’s proportionate to the mistake. It will also make it far easier for the regulator to hear complaints from groups, while still being able to reject vexatious or irrelevant complaints. When the regulator does undertake investigations into the behaviour of a newspaper, under Cameron’s charter these will be so complicated that they are unlikely to reach a conclusion – particularly if that conclusion is that the paper deserves a £1 million fine. Under the cross-party charter, the Recognition Panel will ensure that investigations are ‘simple and credible’, and major fines will be a realistic threat. 5. The cross-party charter will protect free speech Incredibly, the Cameron charter that the press are backing allows the Recognition Panel to get involved in content regulation, which could place dangerous limitations on freedom of expression. The cross-party charter only allows the Panel to get involved when there’s a problem of process (like a serious complaint that has been ignored) not if there’s a problem with content.   The Media Reform Coalition supports the cross-party charter because its proposals are more independent, democratic and effective and will promote good journalism. We strongly urge all MPs to vote against Cameron and in favour of independent regulation on Monday – if you agree, tell your MP to do so here. This has been adapted from a post by Hacked Off – click here to see the original which references the specific clauses in both charters.