Parliament’s Royal Charter, which implements the Leveson recommendations and is endorsed by all parties in Parliament, will benefit everyone and will enhance freedom of expression.
These are the top 20 benefits:
Benefits for ordinary people
1. If a news publisher has harmed you in a way that breaches the industry standards code, for example by getting facts wrong or intruding unjustifiably in private grief, you can take your complaint to a new, genuinely independent and impartial complaints service – free.
2. The public, and independent people, will contribute to the writing and updating of that industry standards code, and newspaper editors will no longer be in a position to tailor it to their own interests. This will increase trust in the system.
3. When complaints are upheld, the independent self-regulator will have the power to make sure corrections and apologies are given proper prominence and are not buried on a little-read page.
4. Newspapers will have to show they have proper internal governance arrangements, ensuring that their reporters obey the law and follow the standards code.
5. Where people have a legal case against a paper – say for libel, harassment or breach of privacy – they can use a cheap, quick and fair arbitration service rather than having to go to court (which usually only the rich can afford).
6. If an ordinary member of the public has a genuine legal claim against a news publisher and that publisher doesn’t offer cheap arbitration because it has refused to join the Charter-backed self-regulator, then that claimant will be protected from having to pay any court costs – no matter who wins the case.
7. When a big press scandal happens (such as phone hacking or the McCann case) there will be a full, independent investigation by the self-regulator so everyone knows what (if anything) has gone wrong and any lessons can be learned.
8. If a newspaper is found to have breached the code or the law in a particularly outrageous, reckless or sustained manner, it can be fined.
9. Every three years a self-regulator must undergo a rigorous external inspection to ensure it remains genuinely independent and effective and is acting on behalf of the public
Benefits for free speech and for journalism
10. The Charter clearly states: ‘The Board [of the self-regulator] shall not have the power to prevent publication of any material, by anyone, at any time. . .’ In other words, it can only act after publication.
11. The new regulation system is rigorously safeguarded against any form of interference by government, political parties or individual politicians, and no party politician may be appointed to any senior post in the system.
12. The new system will be free of the influence of the cabal of proprietors and senior executives who by their actions and failures over the past decade have damaged the reputation of journalism.
13. For the first time, working journalists who are not editors will help to write and update the standards code against which they are judged. They will sit alongside equal numbers of editors and lay people on the code committee.
14. Investigative journalists writing on public interest matters will have more freedom because rich individuals and companies will no longer be able to gag them merely by threatening a high–cost legal action. (Litigants must go to arbitration, which is much cheaper, or if they insist on going to court the newspaper will normally not be liable to pay any any of the costs, whoever wins.)
15. For the first time, journalists put under pressure to do unethical things by their bosses or colleagues will have a confidential hotline to the self-regulator.
Benefits for news publishers
16. By upholding standards of internal governance the new system will help prevent collapses in newsroom values of the kind that has cost one company nearly £300m so far.
17. Commitment to effective, independent regulation under Parliament’s Royal Charter can be a powerful re-branding signal to the public, showing that a page has been turned and helping rebuild trust in newspaper journalism.
18. The arbitration system will not only leave journalists more free to report – the core activity of the industry – but will significantly reduce newspapers’ legal costs and legal risks. There should also be reductions in publishers’ libel insurance premiums.
19. The Charter system gives news publishers on the web the same protection from libel bullies that it gives newspapers, without creating problems for small websites.
20. If the managements of big newspaper groups abandon their costly, time-consuming battle against a regulatory regime that is far lighter than exists in almost any other industry, they will have more time to tackle the real challenges their companies face in the digital age.