April 23 2014 Latest news:
Thursday, December 5, 2013
A royal charter for press regulation proposals has been branded “state licensing” by a Norfolk MP, during a debate calling on the government to withdraw its plans and allow the press to regulate itself.
South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon, who was one of 15 MPs to vote against a new system of punitive exemplary damages, said he hoped to hear the “sound of back-pedalling” from culture minister Ed Vaizey.
The cross-party royal charter, underpinning a new press regulator, was approved by the Privy Council in October despite a legal bid by newspaper publishers to prevent it, which was turned down by High Court judges.
Industry body, the Newspaper Society has said the regional press would not back the charter and will instead push forward with its own plans for a new system of regulation, which would be called the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO).
Culture secretary Maria Miller indicated last month that the royal charter could become redundant if an effective system of self-regulation was brought in.
Tory MP Richard Drax, who called for the debate, said the IPSO regulations, which most newspaper editors and publishers, including Archant Norfolk, whose flagship titles include the Eastern Daily Press and East Anglian Daily Times, are willing to sign up to were “tough”.
He said they were independent of both politicians and the press.
“For example, no editor would be allowed on the arbitration panel, and potentially crippling financial penalties of up to £1m could be placed on titles that step out of line. Far from being toothless, the regulations would bring swift and fair redress to those who have been badly treated.”
Mr Bacon told the Westminster Hall debate: “There should be no doubt that what the government propose is state licensing.”
He added: “The legal underpinning by statute – it might be divided between various bits of architecture, but the effect is the same – would mean that those who do not sign up, and they alone and they uniquely, will be exposed to exemplary damages.
“We have the expression ‘a free press’ for a reason. The people who are prepared to toy with these new ideas bring to mind the expression of George Orwell, who spoke of ‘playing with fire by people who don’t even know that fire is hot’.”
Questioned on whether he had read the whole of the newspapers’ alternative charter Mr Vaizey, who was answering the debate on behalf of the government, admitted he had “not read every word”.
But he added that he had “examined the principles and been briefed on the matter”.
He said it was important to stress that the press royal charter could not simply be changed by government ministers without recourse to Parliament, unlike all other charters.
“In the case of this charter, safeguards have purposefully been put in place to stop any such meddling,” he said.
He added: “All three main parties have agreed that the royal charter is the best way to deliver the recognition body that Leveson recommended.
“The charter itself will not play any direct role in regulating the press. It is there simply to recognise and periodically review any independent self-regulator.”
What do you think of the government and the industry plans to regulate the press? Write (giving your full contact details) to: The Letters Editor, EDP, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email EDPLetters@archant.co.uk