A Dacre’s Dozen – The 12 fatal flaws in the press barons' charter

by Evan Harris

In an attempt to undermine the Royal Charter on press regulation that has been agreed by all parties in Parliament, some of the big press corporations (Associated/NewsInt/Telegraph) have published their own rival charter, the “PressBoF” Royal Charter.                                                                                 

On behalf of victims, Hacked Off is pleased that all political parties are sticking to the promises they made to the victims of press abuse and to the public that there will be no renegotiation (as set out here) of the Leveson-based cross-party Royal Charter.

Here we identify and explain the 12 main flaws in this charter, when it is compared with the Leveson Royal Charter.

NB To fully capture the deceit and conceit behind this scheme you need to know that “PressBoF” – the Press Standards Board of Finance is the shadowy body of top press executives that funds and dominates the failed Press Complaints Commission. It is chaired by the Tory peer, Telegraph boss and former PCC director Guy Black, whose 2012 plan for future press self-regulation was comprehensively rejected by Lord Justice Leveson. Look at the list of who is on it and play “spot the independent”.

The differences between the two options – and how the changes create the flaws set out below – can be seen here in glorious technicolor.

Those top 12 flaws in full:

The “Press Industry” Royal Charter compared to the “Victims’ & Cross-Party” Royal Charter – Top 12 problems

1.    Arbitration is optional

  • •   In the ANL/NewsIntl/Telegraph Charter there is no requirement for an arbitration scheme, one of the central recommendations of the Leveson regulatory recommendations (Schedule 3, para 22)

2.    PressBoF runs the show

The Press Board of Finance (dominated by Associated/News International/Telegraph Group) is written into the Charter and has a great deal of power

  • •   The Charter is granted to PressBof: (Petition and Preamble and Art 1)
  • •   Members of PressBof make up the initial Recognition Panel (Art1.2)
  • •   PressBof/Industry Funding Body (and trade bodies) have a veto on amendments to Charter (Art 9.2)
  • •   PressBof/Industry Funding Body (and trade bodies) have a veto on dissolving the Charter (Art 10.2)
  • •   PressBof can fund the Recognition Panel on a year to year, rather than a long-term basis: (Art 11)

3.    No power to direct equal place and prominence apologies/corrections

The regulator has no power to direct corrections or apologies. Instead the regulator only has the power to “require a remedy”.  The regulator will, like the current PCC, be in the position of negotiating what sort of remedial action is suitable and have no power to specify the nature of the remedy or how or where a correction or apology should be published (Schedule 3, paras15 & 16)

4.    Editors are in almost total control of the Code of Practice

It is the published policy of the press industry – which their Charter wording allows – to continue the status quo with a majority of editors on the Code Committee. The PressBoF Charter only requires 1 or 2 non-editors. This is to the exclusion of working journalists, and significantly reducing the role of the public and independent appointees or independently-appointed people (Schedule 3, para 7)

5.    There is no guarantee investigations will be funded or effective

They are not required to be ‘simple and credible’. There is no requirement for a ring-fenced investigations fund. The recognition panel cannot use its judgment to assess the effectiveness of investigations. (Schedule 3, paras 18 & deletion of 19A)

6.    The appointments process of the Recognition Panel is far less independent of the industry

  • •   The Commissioner for Public Appointments (CPA) no longer has control of process of appointments to the panel (deletions in Schedule 1, para 2.1 and para 4.2).
  • •   The Chair appoints the other members instead of this being done by the CPA (Schedule 1, para 2.2).
  • •   One member of the (4 person) appointments committee has to be agreed with the PressBof/Industry Funding Body and will be a “representative of the press” (Schedule 1, para 2.3).
  • •   Members of the recognition panel serve only 2 years not 5 years – considerably increasing turnover and ability to influence appointments (Schedule 1, para 5.2)
  • •   Former editors can be appointed to the recognition panel (Schedule1, para 3.3 (a))

7.    Politicians are let back in everywhere

  • •   Any and all politicians (including serving MPs) can play a role on the staff of the Recognition Panel including its director, as the total bar has been removed (see Article 7.3).
  • •   The bar on Party political peers and MEPs – from the Appointments Committee and the Board of the Recognition Panel – has been removed (see Schedule1, paras 2.4 & 3.3)
  • •   The bar on Party political peers, MEPs, and elected members of the devolved parliaments/assemblies – from the Board of the Regulator – has been removed (see Schedule 3, para 5)

8.     Curtailment of judgement of the Recognition Panel

  • •   The Recognition Panel cannot use its judgment to see whether the regulator is independent and effective, it is bound strictly to the tick-box approach recognition criteria (Schedule 2:, para1)

9.    Whistle-blowing hotline is still not a definite recognition requirement

  • •   Although the final draft now purports to include a “requirement” (Schedule 3 Para 8A) to have a whistle-blowing hotline, this would appear to be misleading. While Schedule 2 para1 says that the recognition criteria in Schedule 3 must be met, this is qualified in the Press Industry Charter by the explicit rejection of this requirement, and other Leveson recommendations, as recognition criteria in Schedule 2, para 4 of the PressBoF version.
  • •   There remains not even a superficial requirement for the regulator to provide guidance on the public interest, or general advice to the public about the Code and privacy issues (Deletion of Schedule 3, paras 8A-8C in 18th March Charter).

10.  Extra barriers for bringing complaints

  • •   It will be very difficult indeed for representative groups to complain (Schedule 3, para11(b)). A representative group complaint has to be a ‘significant’ code breach, there has to be ‘substantial’ public interest, and it has to qualify for ‘formal’ consideration.
  • •   This is a higher hurdle even than PCC
  • •   It is not needed because bars on “opinion-based”, “lobbying” or “unjustified” complaints are already excluded in both Charters (Schedule 3 para 11)

11.  Lack of Independence of the Chair of the “independent self-regulator”

The Chair of the “independent self-regulator” could even – it seems – even be

  • •   a serving editor as per Schedule 3 para 5(d),
  • •   a serving MP (or any politician) as per Schedule 3 para 5(e) or
  • •   someone who cannot in the view of the panel act fairly and impartially (deletion of Sched 3 para 5(f).

This is due to the

  • •   deletion of Schedule 3, para 5 (f) entirely – a requirement that Chair and board members are able to act fairly and impartially,
  • •   deletion of Schedule 3 para 5 (d) and (e) from the criteria relating to the Chair in para 2,
  • •   together with the caveat at the end of para 1 that industry involvement in making appointments to the board in line with para 5 is not a breach of para 1.
  • •   The lack of clarity on whether para 4 safeguards applies to the appointment of the Chair
  • •   And the only “check” on such an obvious breach of the Leveson requirements would be the Recognition Panel. However if the self-regulator is put to the Recognition Panel as soon as it is created, the Panel would be … PressBoF itself

12.  Power to exclude publishers by lack of differential subscription rules

  • •   The self-regulator will be able to exclude some publishers by virtue of not being required to provide differential membership terms based on different characteristics of the publishers (deletion of words in Schedule 3, para 23). Unlike the deleted wording, the wording in Schedule 2 para 5 does not require a regulator to offer differential arrangements for different classes of members.

What about the veto on the members of the board of the regulator – said to have been dropped by the industry?

  • •   We have heard that an ‘industry veto’ on appointments to the self-regulator has been ‘conceded’. That planned veto does not even appear in the PressBoF charter and it is does not therefore even make our Top 12 above. It turns out  that it was instead an “intention” of the industry (who draw up the detailed rules beyond any Charter framework) to require the decision of the appointments committee in Schedule 3 paras 4 & 5, on nominations to the board, to be by “qualified majority voting” such that the “press representative (s)” had a veto. Now, instead, it will be by consensus – which may be no better if that merely means unanimity. So they merely planned a veto in the standing orders behind the Charter but had not made it public.
  • •   In any event the lack of independence of the self-regulator remains –see (7) and 11) below, as well as the nobbling of the “independent” Recognition Panel – see (2), (6) and (7) below.
  • •   It would be appropriate for the press industry to publish its draft Articles of Association and Standing Orders so people can see what other anti-Leveson plans are hidden therein.

Evan Harris is Associate Director at Hacked Off. He tweets at @DrEvanHarris.

This article was revised at 13:02 on 24/05/2013 to make minor text changes to improve clarity and add a link.

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Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Barbara Oxleyreply
May 13, 2013 at 11:08 am

This is appalling! Nothing changes and newpapers are free to publish whatever they want to whether true or otherwise. Jaw dropping arrogance.

Jim Sullivan.reply
May 13, 2013 at 6:14 pm

Keep up the fight folks. The sooner the Murdoch clan are dethroned, the better it will be for the people of Great Britain.

Chris Randallreply
May 16, 2013 at 11:35 am

Can I suggest the government imposes VAT on newspapers to pay for a decewnt system as news international pays no tax anywhere in the world.

May 16, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Items 6 and 7 on the page are the same. Can someone correct this? Thanks.

Hacked Offreply
May 17, 2013 at 4:15 pm
– In reply to: Neill

Thanks! This has now been corrected!

Sean Willisreply
May 16, 2013 at 1:07 pm

Why do you expect legislation from government to protect the inherent rights of men and women? The Royal Charter on press regulation is no different.

The the legal system is not designed to protect our rights, it’s designed to ensnare us. Why do you rely on the legal system to protect you?

Wake up people! Research the difference between “legal” and “lawful” and you will soon understand that “If you don’t know your rights, you have none.”

May 20, 2013 at 10:59 am
– In reply to: Sean Willis

If the Press tried to act responsibly just once in a while then there would be no need for legislation on the Press. It is precisely because they do not want to that they have brought it upon themselves. Oh by the way in terms of asserting the rights of man in this country would you rely on the Magna Carta, or the European Convention of Human Rights? By the timescales of British Legislative system in this area the privileged have always had a distinct advantage over the majority.

Mike Maughanreply
May 16, 2013 at 2:42 pm

While a properly free press is indisputably in the public interest, we have to doubt that the newspaper industry is capable of regulating itself without some strong independent body which has the intersts of indidvidual members of the public as its pricipal focus. The bosses of the industry have permitted a culture of corruption, mendacity, victimisation of innocent individuals and cynical invention, in which those caught up have no redress. Not much public interest there. This looks like the same old same old.

May 16, 2013 at 2:49 pm

This is all very strange indeed.
Is phone hacking illegal? Yes.
Is phone hacking illegal when it interferes with a police investigation? Yes.
These laws are a trojan horse that are being introduced under the guise of Milly Dowler and harassment of celebs.

There are laws in place that if they were actually used, then all people involved would be in prison. But they are not enforced. So we now have various measures to restrict the press. We do not need them-all we need is to have current laws enforced, and the perpetrators jailed under these laws in order to show that they have teeth, and that this behaviour will result in a nasty surprise.

Governments will always use certain events in order to push their own agenda and this is just one more example.
Freedom is more important.
People need to stop looking at a short term viewpoint in order to see the harm of this . Look 20-40 years ahead. Do you think the laws will have stayed the same? Or do you think that people will get used to the new laws and thus provide a benchmark for normality. When people are used to it, then another little thing is added. And then another. And then another.
If you open the door a tiny bit, then it is forever open. It is always said that freedom is not lost overnight. It happens gradually, bit by bit-allowing people to get used to a small change, then adding a bit more on top, then allowing acclimitisation, then adding a bit more.

We have the laws to stop press abuse. We need to use them.

May 18, 2013 at 9:27 am
– In reply to: Ted

Ted – I would love to see the laws enforced and no regulation of a free press. But over the years, I have seen that legal proceedings cost money. The little guy has no money to fight the press and the government and authorities run scared of upsetting them for short term electoral reasons.
All I really want to see is a panel that would ensure that equal prominence was given to corrections when errors were made – with a right of the victim to edit the corrections and exemplary damages awarded to make the press think before they drag the innocent through the mud and the press proposal seems to deny this right – so I reject it.
The freedom of the people is more important than the freedom of the press and the press are a business – they sell newspapers and advertising – I don’t trust them any more or less than any other corporate entity when it comes to self interest.

Dave Tomlinsonreply
May 16, 2013 at 3:09 pm

This “Press Charter” is a licence to carry on as before. The press (and politicians) have not grasped the fact that the world has changed. They can no longer get away with the rubbish they have handed out in the past. There will be a campaign to boycott any publication which supports this travesty and deselect any politician who does not speak against it.
The press have had endless “last” chances. This time, I hope, they have come out of the saloon and found brick wall. Their options are to support the local sheriff or stand against the wall and be shot. I would be happy for those newspapers that have not taken the first option to suffer the second, starting with CEOs.

May 19, 2013 at 2:41 am
– In reply to: Dave Tomlinson

This is NOT just about phone hacking, illegal as it is (and should be enforced)…
a landscape architect was murdered in Bristol a few years ago. Large sections of the press very publicly “convicted” the old chap who lived in the flat below in hysteria and over many newspaper pages over several days but with no proper evidence. Later a younger (Dutch) guy was actually convicted of that murder with proper evidence, but where did you see the front pages (or any following pages) showing apologies for these papers getting it so utterly wrong?
You might be a completely innocent similar older guy by chance one day. Unless you are very rich enough to sue for lible (and even then you don’t get the same newspaper prominence) you will get tarred with “the crime”, and could have your life ruined. Just so they can sell a few more newspapers at your expense.
I am not against public interest proper journalistic reporting.
And I’m not here to defend the lives of either guilty or righteous celebs (who may have better access and money to defend themselves than ordinary people).
And I want a free (but responsible) press.
If anything like Watergate in the USA happened here I’d want the few courageous journalists pursuing it as those of the NYT did.
But if as prominent as original headline apologies COULD be demanded (as appropriate, not just for the sake of “tit for tat” and recognising the public interest) then newspapers would more carefully consider what they print.
Once you have been on the receiving end of press sensationalism (as I have by a non-national newspaper) you might understand.

May 17, 2013 at 10:05 am

Good to see that hacked off operate just like any other body that has dissenting opinion. My comment did not clear the moderation because I questioned having a muzzle on the press. Bet this doesn’t make it through either. Sums up what this is all about doesn’t it-keep on censoring people. Maybe then you’ll be able to claim wide ‘support’ for your scheme

May 17, 2013 at 6:25 pm

Oh Ted. You should have more faith. And patience. This site does not “censor” legitimate expressions of dissent – unlike our national newspapers which not only provide grossly distorted “news” reports but eliminate virtually all dissent or inconvenient facts from their columns and then launch vendettas against those who disagree. All in the name of free speech!! Alice herself could not have done better in Wonderland.

Spinning in the Last Chance Saloon: Why the “Son of PCC” regulator fails all the tests, Part 1 – Evan Harris | Inforrm's Blogreply
July 11, 2013 at 12:08 am

[…] of them – that Leveson said that a new self-regulator needed to meet. The PressBoF self-regulator fails many of them. And second,  the need for a self-regulator to be approved by the recognition body set up in the […]

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