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October 9, 2013

Roger Alton: UK newspapers may go to Europe to overturn state-imposed press regulation

By Darren Boyle

Newspaper owners will fight government press regulation plans in Europe, it was revealed last night.

Yesterday Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Maria Miller told Parliament that the Privy Council was going to reject press proposals for new independent regulation.

Instead the Government would pursue its own cross-party deal with updated proposals that will be published this Friday.

Speaking on BBC’s Newsnight, Roger Alton, executive editor of the Times said the current proposals were unacceptable for the print media. He said he was speaking in a private capacity.

“The industry has made extraordinary concessions. I think there will be a lot of bargaining over the next three days but I probably think it won’t work and then we have to move onto the next stage.

“The press has given so much away. We have £1m fines and massive investigatory powers. You can’t have a voluntary system that nobody wants.

“We completely accept the need to change the nature of regulation. We have put in place a whole raft of things.

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“What we don’t want is a statutory body because that is essentially the end of 300 years of a free press.”

“We have one of the great raucous, vital presses in the Western world."

Alton admitted that shocking criminal offences had taken place but he asked: “Do we need more laws? There are laws engulfing the press. It is an extraordinarily tightly controlled thing. You don’t want to have Parliament involved.”

Warning of potential court action Alton added: “You can’t have a voluntary system where none of the volunteers want to volunteer. I think there is the possibility of a judicial review. You could go to Europe because we think it is an unjust law and we could see what Europe has got to say.

“I think the idea that newspapers are going to roll over and do something that they passionately don’t believe in is unlikely. I would hope we don’t.”

Hacked Off said action was “long overdue” and urged the Government to introduce a new system of regulation as soon as possible.

Prof Brian Cathcart of Hacked Off said the newspapers should accept what is “a workable, fair solution that poses no threat whatsoever to freedom of expression in this country".

Cathcart warned the Government against making major changes to the March proposals.

The newspaper Industry Steering Group announced its regret over the Privy Council’s decision to veto their plan.

“We are deeply disappointed that the Privy Council sub-committee has rejected our charter proposal which set out criteria for tough and independent self-regulation with the support of virtually all of the newspaper and magazine industry.

"The Privy Council make it very clear that royal charter proposals are unlikely to succeed if they are the subject of controversy. Nothing could be more controversial than a royal charter imposed by politicians on an industry which is wholly opposed to it and which would fatally undermine freedom of expression."

It is understood that the proposed arbitration service will impose a fee of between £35 and £685 to deter vexatious claims.

Miller told MPs that unless she secures a consensus in Parliament on Friday, she would implement the 18 March proposals.

She said: "We have an opportunity to take a final look at our charter. An opportunity to bring all parties together and ensure that the final charter is both workable and effective.

"We have a responsibility to make sure that what we do here will be effective and stand the test of time, so we need to make it the best we can.

Labour Party deputy leader Harriet Harman said the process has taken too long stressing that the Leveson principles should be implemented as soon as possible.

"We regret this because there has been nearly a year since Leveson reported and six months since this House agreed the draft charter.”


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