Hacked Off has been told by David Cameron that his Royal Charter proposal would deliver ‘the whole of Leveson’ – in other words all the elements of the judge’s proposals for the regulation of the press. The judge’s scheme is generous to the press and carefully balanced: we call it the minimum acceptable compromise.
Today the draft Charter is published and we have seen it. We measured the draft Royal Charter against the judge’s proposals and you can see the full comparison here. Contrary to the prime minister’s assertion, his charter falls a long way short. Here are the top 5 reasons why.
1 – The Royal Charter would allow politicians to interfere in press regulation.
Under this Royal Charter politicians would be able to interfere with the regulation system, either to undermine press freedom or to help their friends in the press escape accountability. A chartered organisation is one that is overseen by ministers, and the efforts made by ministers to alter that in this case are simply insufficient.
In addition, ministers have taken to themselves the power to appoint the chair of the panel that will pick the members of the chartered body. This self-evidently reduces the independence of the body, and is a clear breach of Leveson’s recommendations.
2 – The Royal Charter would allow the press to be their own judge again.
Again in clear breach of the Leveson recommendations, ministers want to give the press a role in choosing the members of the recognition panel. This is the body that judges whether the press self-regulator is sufficiently effective, and not just another Press Complaints Commission. It is a body that must represent the interests of the public and not the industry, because its real job is to ensure the public is protected from press abuses.
3 – The Royal Charter would allow the press to get away with a new self-regulator that was little different from the discredited PCC.
Leveson made 30 specific recommendations that set out the minimum requirements for a new press self-regulator. These ‘recognition criteria‘ were designed to ensure that the self-regulator would always put the interests of the public before those of the press. Of those 30, the draft Royal Charter breaches well over half, and ministers admit that all of them are in response to representations from the press – in other words, they have given editors what they demanded.
4 – The Royal Charter would make victims pay for redress.
Where Leveson said the new arbitration service should be free for members of the public, the charter says it should be ‘inexpensive’. This means that a regulator will be allowed to charge victims for using an arbitration service.
5 – The Royal Charter would allow the press to pick and choose which complaints it responds to.
Key recommendations on complaints, complaints handling and what the press have to do when they are found to have breached their code of practice have been breached or altered.
A lack of transparency
The Royal Charter is a surrender to press pressure. It proposes ditching or watering down every one of the Leveson recommendations that is inconvenient to editors and proprietors.
Six weeks ago ministers shared with Hacked Off their plans for the charter at that time. While these were far from being fully Leveson-complaint, they appeared to show an intention to create something that would work in the public interest. Then ministers stopped speaking to us. Now, weeks alter, we see a document that is not so much Leveson-compliant as Leveson-defiant.
We call on ministers to comply at least with Leveson’s recommendations 82-84, which require complete and up-to-date transparency of dealings they have with the press industry. They must come clean and reveal the record of their meetings with and correspondence with proprietors and editors – and with the executives and lawyers lobbying on their behalf.
A crucial element of the Leveson Inquiry and the Leveson Report was the problem of relations between the press and politicians. The public should be told what has happened in this case.