Hurrah For The Privy Council! It’s Not Just The Public That Are Hacked-off With Pressbof


Newsnight proudly announced a scoop on Monday night as they informed us that the Privy Council have rejected the PressBoF version of the Royal Charter which is supposed to provide oversight of the behaviour of the press in the UK and protect the public from its regular excesses.  This much trailed decision is good news for anyone that believes our national press has behaved disgracefully and needs to be reformed but its not the end of the story. PressBoF has been rebuffed but we still have not been told if the Leveson compliant parliamentary version of press oversight will be given royal assent.

For those of you unfamiliar with the two versions of the Royal Charter that have been proposed you may find the following details from the independent Media Standards Trust helpful.

The two Charters are substantively different. This includes material differences with respect to the main themes that Lord Justice Leveson emphasised as critical to the success of a new system of regulation. These are the themes that the Prime Minister referred to as the ‘Leveson principles’ when he responded to the report in the House on 29th  November [2012].

These themes are:
• independence from political influence;
• independence from press influence;
• access to fair redress;
• adequate powers (of correction and investigation);
• a satisfactory code

Based on the differences between the five key themes outlined in this short document, the PressBoF Charter does not achieve Leveson’s aim of an independent and effective system of self-regulation, as compared the cross-party agreed Royal Charter which achieves most of them.

Leveson said that the previous system of self-regulation failed because it was not adequately independent of the industry, and that was in large part due to PressBoF:

‘The PCC is constrained by serious structural deficiencies which limit what it can do. The power of PressBoF in relation to appointments, the Code committee and the funding of the PCC means that the PCC is far from being an independent body’ (Leveson Report, Volume IV, p.1576)

The PressBoF Charter makes the system of regulation not less but as, if not more, dependent on the industry than even the PCC system. PressBoF becomes the owner of the system. The editors have almost complete control of the code.

Nor is the PressBoF Charter as protected from political influence as the cross-party Charter. It allows party political politicians to participate at all levels. Moreover, it is not protected from interference by Privy Councillors (as to the cross-party Charter which is protected by a clause in the ERR Act).

From the perspective of the public, the two greatest differences between the Charters must be with regard to access to redress, and powers to correct.

The cross party Charter makes arbitration a pre-requisite of any recognised new system. The PressBoF Charter makes it optional. Leveson was especially concerned that a new system of self-regulation should be ‘accessible’ by the public.

In terms of corrections and apologies, the cross party Charter ensures a recognised regulator has to have the power to direct a newspaper to publish, even if this means a correction on the front page. The PressBoF Charter only ensures a regulator will have the power, where appropriate, to require some sort of remedial action – and only after negotiations between the complainant and the paper have failed.

While the cross-party Charter lays out the structure of a new system of independent self-regulation close to what Leveson recommended, the PressBoF Charter proposes a system much further away from Leveson, and one that institutionalizes some of the more significant failings of the previous system.

Media Standards Trust (May 2013) Full pdf document available here.

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