The Royal Charter
The Royal Charter on press self-regulation
The Royal Charter on press self-regulation was approved by all parties in Parliament on 18 March 2013 and is designed to implement the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry.
For more details please see here for a guide to the Royal Charter and political independence.
In fact the Leveson Report wanted implementation by Act of Parliament but the political parties agreed to use Royal Charter instead as a concession to newspaper editors who did not want to see what they called a ‘press law’.
In line with the Leveson recommedations, the Charter creates an independent body called the Recognition Panel which is charged with inspecting press self-regulators to ensure that they meet basic regulatory standards and do not put the interests of the industry before those of the public (as the Press Complaints Commission has).
The Recognition Panel is a small body set up in a way that makes it independent of government, Parliament and political influence. It is also independent of the press industry. This means that it acts purely in the interests of the public.
The Panel does NOT regulate the press or have any role in relation to the contents of newspapers and news websites. Its job is to test whether any press regulator that is established and put forward for ‘recognition‘ meets specified standards of effectiveness and independence. Those standards are set out in Schedule 3 of the Charter and they closely follow the terms of the Leveson recommendations.
If a self-regulator meets those standards it is ‘recognised’, which in turn means that news publishers who are members enjoy a variety of privileges.
To ensure there is no slippage from those standards, self-regulators will be inspected again by the Recognition Panel after two years, and then every three years after that.
The Royal Charter does NOT establish a press self-regulator; news publishers are expected to do this. Lord Justice Leveson was firm on this: in the interests of press freedom, news publishers should regulate their own affairs. But for the protection of the public self-regulators should conform to the basic standards he specified.
Among those standards is that no self-regulator ‘should have the power to prevent the publication of any material, by anyone, at any time’. In other words, while the system protects the public by offering effective redress when things have gone wrong, it also safeguards freedom of expression.
Finally, the Royal Charter does not compel news publishers to be members of a recognised self-regulator. They are free to remain outside and they may choose to regulate themselves under their own terms, or not at all. However, in line with the Leveson recommendations they will suffer competitive disadvantages when compared with newspapers that join a recognised self-regulator.