The newspaper industry’s planned judicial review to derail Government plans for press regulation is an exercise in pragmatism according to Stig Abell, managing editor of The Sun.
Former director of the PCC Abell was appearing on BBC Newsnight to discuss the industry’s decision to challenge the Privy Council's rejection of its press regulation Royal Charter. Publishers also revealed yesterday that they are pressing on with the creation of an Independent Press Standards Organisation which is based on their Royal Charter plan.
A Government Royal Charter on press regulation is set to go to the Privy Council for final sign-off at the end of the month.
Abell said: “I think from the various opinion polls the public say on one hand they want to make sure that there is an independent regulator with proper independence built into it and on the other hand they don’t want the sticky hands of politicians in it either.
“I think in many ways this is an exercise in pragmatism. There is almost a moral imperative. Leveson said create a self-regulator and it is the Government who are saying there should be voluntary self-regulation.
“The Government started off talking about voluntary self regulation, that’s what they want to achieve. The newspaper industry are saying, okay, we will try and create something that is voluntary, that is tougher than what went before and is better than what went before and which will hopefully be able to command the confidence of the public.”
But Max Mosley, who successfully sued the News of the World for invasion of privacy, said he was against the industry plan because “newspapers could simply go back to their old tricks”.
And he attacked several of the owners because of their living arrangements: the Barclay Brothers, Lord Rothermere and Rupert Murdoch.
“But what’s happening now with the press is that you’ve got three very rich people living outside the UK, who don’t pay tax and run the Telegraph, The Mail and The Sun – Times group. Those people are putting two fingers up to Parliament and the public in this country. They’ve got no respect for democracy and no respect for the rule of law and they are trying to push the thing into the long grass.
“The fundamental thing to me is the access to justice. Unless you are a millionaire you can’t sue for breach of privacy or you can’t sue for defamation. That’s got to be wrong. You need an arbitral body that’s missing from the press proposals but is very much in Leveson. I think what you’ll find despite what the press are doing, there will be a regulator. It will appear. The respectable press that have a regard for the rule of law and so on will join it.”
However, Abell said the new regulator planned by the press industry will have considerable powers that were not available to the PCC.
“The judicial review reflects a theological point. A view that the industry holds quite dearly that for 300 years we have not had the politicians with a direct means of interfering.”
“Ultimately they need a two-thirds majority of Parliament and what’s the one issue that you can probably unite parliamentarians on and that’s a distain and a disagreement of the press. They can influence the recognition body and that can influence the regulator.”
Abell admitted the status quo was indefensible and if the industry tried to continue under the present regime then the Royal Charter route would have a strong argument.
“In a pragmatic way, to get this moving and get something created that people can rely upon, the industry is putting up something that could possibly work.”
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