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Fleet Street editor says libel fears could force industry to support Government’s Royal Charter regulator

By Darren Boyle

Newspapers will sign up to the Government’s Royal Charter once they start getting hit for costs in libel courts a leading editor has .  

Chris Blackhurst, group content editor for the Independent group, told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 that the financial threat will be a motivating factor.

He said: “The problem is that when the first libel case and whichever paper is involved is hit with costs for both sides…that's going to harden the thinking. That royal charter is now law and that is law and I think it will focus minds.”
Blackhurst said it had not been decided whether the Independent will sign up to the Independent Press Standards Organisation supported by Pressbof.

“It's the proprietor who does it. In our case we have an individual proprietor Evgeny Lebedev and it's his decision. We think there are a few things that are still wrong with IPSO but there’s not much wrong.

"If we were to press a bit harder we might get some further changes. There are arguments about whether it is independent enough, we're not very happy about the six-year contracts, that's a long contract in anyone's terms.”

Blackhurst said the financial threat posed by the costs issue in libel cases could provide a solution to the impasse between the industry and Government.

"I think that's where we are edging to. In time, I think IPSO will seek Charter recognition. But look, I'm not the spokesman for IPSO and neither am I Evgeney Lebedev."

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Yesterday Pressbof announced its decision to appeal the High Court’s refusal to grant them a judicial review to challenge the Privy Council’s rejection of the industry’s rival Royal Charter plan.

The organisation representing newspaper and magazine publishers lodged papers in the High Court in a bid to scrap the Government’s Royal Charter.

Pressbof chairman Lord Black of Brentwood: "The imposition by the Privy Council of a Royal Charter on our industry raises hugely significant questions about a free press, a free society and the quality of our democracy. Quite apart from the threat to press freedom in the UK, it will have terrible reverberations across the Commonwealth and the developing world.  The stakes are extremely high.

“We do not believe that a hastily convened hearing for an emergency injunction application is an appropriate venue for giving proper consideration to these vital issues. We are confident our appeal will succeed.”

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