The Conservative draft Royal Charter, published 14th March, can be read here.
The joint Labour and Lib Dem draft, published 15th March, can be read here.
1. The Conservative Royal Charter can be changed by Privy Councillors (including current Cabinet Ministers). Legal advice for both the press and the victims have advised that, despite clauses in the Royal Charter intended to prevent such interference, these do not have standing. Supporting the alternative version will, we are told, be a clause preventing interference.
2. In the Conservative version, if the system fails, or there is a repeat of the Desmond problem, there is not a provision to trigger a response. In the alternative version, there is (Section 4(d), and Schedule 2, 10)
3. In the Conservative version, the recognition process is essentially a tick box exercise, where the recogniser does not have flexibility to use its judgment to determine if the regulator actually is independent and effective (Schedule 2, 1). In the alternative, the Recognition panel is empowered to use its judgment, according to the Leveson principles, to see if the system of regulation actually is independent and effective.
4. In the Conservative version there is one opportunity to fix the arbitration process in favour of small publications, the regional press or ordinary people (Schedule 2, 7). In the alternative version, there is a consultation about arbitration at each cyclical review.
5. The Conservative version provides a potential opportunity for the Recognition Panel to get involved in content regulation (Schedule 2, 9). The alternative says that exceptional reviews can only happen when there is a problem of process, not content.
6. The Conservative version gives the industry a veto over appointments to the ‘independent’ Board (Schedule 3, 3 and 5(f)). The alternative has no veto.
7. The Conservative version gives serving editors almost complete power over the Code. The alternative gives serving editors, working journalists and members of the public responsibility for the Code (Schedule 3, 7)
8. The Conservative version makes it extremely difficult for groups of people to complain, even if the complaint is important and valid (Schedule 3, 7). The alternative allows anyone to complain, while giving the regulator discretion to reject vexatious, irrelevant or pressure group complaints.
9. In the Conservative version the regulator cannot tell publications to publish a front-page apology. Or even direct the nature, extent and placement of an egregious falsehood (Schedule 3, 15 & 16). In the alternative it can.
10. The press proposed a process of investigation that was lengthy and involved multiple representations by the publication (Robert Jay counted 7). Leveson said that, as a consequence, it was unlikely to reach a conclusion. In the alternative version, the investigation process has to be ‘simple and credible’ (Schedule 3, 18).
11. £1m fines would almost certainly never be levied in the Conservative version. Fines can only be levied once an investigation has been concluded. As noted above, the proposals for investigations put forward by the press to Leveson provided ‘so many opportunities to the regulated entity to challenge every single step’ Leveson said, ‘so as to frustrate the investigation and make it very difficult for the regulator to reach a conclusion, particularly if that conclusion was adverse’. In the Conservative version, the original lengthy press proposal would pass and therefore fines, especially large fines, would almost never be imposed (Schedule 3, 18 of Conservative draft). In the alternative version investigations have to be simple and credible.
12. Bloggers, independent publications, small local newspapers, can be deliberately priced out of joining the club in the Conservative version (Schedule 3, 23). In the alternative, which is consistent with Leveson’s recommendation, they cannot.