by Brian Cathcart
Hold the front page! The newspaper bosses are making concessions – and apparently they think we should be grateful. There seems to be no limit to their vanity, and their nerve.
We have a Royal Charter that has been approved – most unusually for any political action – by every single party in Parliament. It is backed by the mass of public opinion. And it is based on the recommendations of a year-long, judge-led public inquiry of remarkable thoroughness.
And now the people who run some of our big newspaper corporations – an industry condemned by that inquiry for ‘wreaking havoc in the lives of innocent people’ – say they have made a concession towards it.
They just do not get it. They have learned nothing and they assume that they can simply con us into believing they have a right to be unaccountable, a right to mark their own homework, a right to bend British politics to their will.
And what is this concession? They have agreed not to demand a veto on who will regulate them. That’s right. They have graciously offered not to handpick the members of the independent body whose job is to ensure that – in a total breach with the past – they actually observe their own industry code of standards.
On any sensible measure this concession might get them to square one in the understanding of the idea of independence, and no further.
But it’s worse than that, because actually what they are attempting here is to assert a veto over all press regulation. They are saying that if they don’t accept it, it can’t work, and so the British public has no choice but to accept press regulation on the terms laid down by press corporations themselves – the very companies whose disgraceful activities made the Leveson inquiry necessary.
And what is their plan? Their plan is an alternative Royal Charter that will deny the public access to justice through a cheap, quick arbitration system, that will enable editors to go on making their own rules and allow them to pick and choose which complaints to consider, that will enable papers to go on burying corrections on page 94 – and above all that will not be independent, of the industry or of politicians. Unbelievably, they want to have serving politicians in charge.
In short, they want no change from the old PCC, although they may be ready to put different lipstick on the model this time.
We must call their bluff. They can not be allowed to go on abusing the British public as they have in the past, and they certainly should not be allowed to raise two fingers to the public, to Parliament and to the fair findings of the Leveson inquiry (at which their views were heard and taken account of).
The Royal Charter approved by Parliament is the way forward. Give it time, and everyone will see its great merits. It is democratic and it promises to provide effective, independent press self-regulation without any impact on freedom of expression. That is why the press barons hate it. And that is why we should all support it.
Brian Cathcart is director of Hacked Off. He tweets at @BrianCathcart.