UK regional press trade body the Newspaper Society has warned Culture Secretary Maria Miller, the Privy Council and the Queen that the Government’s proposed press regulation plan could be unconstitutional.
And it has urged Miller to consider a rival Royal Charter for the regulation of the press put forward by the NS with the backing of the PPA and most of the major national newspaper publishers.
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The Privy Council is set to consider both the Parliament-backed Royal Charter and the rival press industry plan at its next meeting on 15 May. That meeting will be attended by head of the council, the Queen, Lord President Nick Clegg and three as yet un-named Government ministers.
Its decision will be based on advice from the relevant Government department – in this case Culture, Media and Sport.
Writing on behalf of 1,100 newspaper titles, NS director David Newell said: “The Charter punishes regional and local newspapers for crimes and activities for which they have been found innocent and asks them to be part of an expensive, burdensome regulatory structure either as part of the whole industry or on their own.”
Noting that Clegg had suggested regional newspaper could set up their own regulator, Newell said that this was impossible under the terms of the Government’s proposed Charter.
He said: “It will have to meet the same rigid, near–permanent Charter and Recognition Criteria which will apply to all other newspapers and magazines particularly in respect of the compulsory arbitration scheme, for example.”
Noting that the letter has been copied in to the Privy Council Office, the Prime Minister and Buckingham Palace, Newell said: “I believe that Britain’s 1,100 newspapers deserve a fair hearing before matters reach the Privy Council. Their freedoms and unique role and functions should not be brushed aside as a result of a quick fix to come to a deal with ‘Hacked Off’.
“Regional and local newspapers are custodians of freedom of speech and the freedom to publish in this country. Their views and concerns come from a historic perspective about relationships between the monarchy, parliamentary and local democracy, the community and the citizen. It is vital that that perspective is understood.
“The monarch’s prerogative powers should not be used to impose a regulatory regime on regional and local newspapers without consultation and a genuine attempt to proceed by consent.”
The UK monarch has not rejected a government Bill in 300 years, so it is thought unlikely that the Queen would compromise her neutrality on this occasion.
But the NS has nonetheless raised some constitutional concerns about the Royal Charter process.
According to the NS: “There are no examples which exist where a Royal Charter has been used to impose regulation or controls on an industry or profession without their agreement or consent and without full public consultation.
“This makes the Government’s draft press charter unique and potentially unconstitutional.
“Royal Charters in the twentieth century and beyond have never been used as a substitute for legislation to impose obligations on citizens without their consent. Otherwise governments would never have to legislate on anything. They could revert to ruling through the Queen in Council.
“The Royal Charter which is being proposed by the whole newspaper and magazine industry is full square within the scope of the Royal Charter process. It is an entirely appropriate and responsible action by the whole industry seeking to establish a regulatory structure for itself within the framework recommended by Lord Justice Leveson.”