Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Hacked Off letter (to MPs) and press regulation

Dear Mr Graham Jones MP,  In 2013, by endorsing the Royal Charter on Press Self-Regulation, Parliament took a historic step towards greater press accountability without impairing freedom of expression. In 2014 Hacked Off will work hard to see the Charter put into action. Here are some of the things we are doing.

Widespread support for the Royal Charter

More than 100 leading figures from the worlds of literature, film-making, broadcasting, journalism, civil liberties and free-speech activism have put their names to a declaration in support of the Charter. The full list of signatories can be seen here. It includes Salman Rushdie, Monica Ali, Rowan Williams, Sir Tom Stoppard, Clare Balding and Helen Fielding.

This shows that the charter enjoys the full support of people for whom free expression really matters, and that the scaremongering of some newspapers is unjustified. Opinion polls continue to show a large majority of the public in favour of newspapers setting up a regulator which meets the basic standards of effectiveness and independence set out in the Royal Charter.

The Recognition Panel

The Royal Charter was sealed on 30 October, having been amended at the last moment to meet concerns of local and regional newspapers that free public access to low-cost arbitration would produce floods of claims. (A self-regulator may now charge a modest administration fee that should deter vexatious claims.) The Commissioner for Public Appointments (CPA), Sir David Normington, has begun the process of appointment to the Recognition Panel which, under the Charter, will check periodically whether a press self-regulator meets the Leveson standards as set out in the Charter. The Panel will be wholly independent of the Government and politicians. The appointments committee for the Recognition Panel set up by the CPA has been announced and consists of 4 people, entirely independent of Government, with experience in self-regulation, media matters and the nature of public service posts.

IPSO is PCC Mark 2

Several leading newspaper companies propose to ignore the cross-party Royal Charter and go back to regulating themselves exclusively under their own terms. They plan a new body, ‘IPSO’, which is no more than a rebranding of the discredited Press Complaints Commission (PCC). This analysis by the Media Standards Trust found that IPSO satisfied only 12 of the 38 Leveson Inquiry recommendations. These detailed findings have not been challenged. IPSO has started it’s own appointments process which is in clear breach of every relevant Leveson recommendation and additionally is flawed even by the terms of its own Articles. This is set out here.

A Leveson-compliant self-regulator

An alternative self-regulator called IMPRESS, is being set up by journalists and free expression campaigners including the distinguished former editor Sir Harry Evans. Assuming this goes ahead and is recognised under the Charter, it will trigger the incentives (carrots and sticks) set out in the Crime and Courts Act 2013, thus placing newspapers outside the Charter system at a competitive disadvantage.

David Cameron urges papers to do the right thing

The Prime Minister, in an interview with the Spectator, repeated his strong support for the Royal Charter. He said there was no good reason for newspapers to remain outside the Charter system and that Parliament and the public will not be satisfied with a continuation of the PCC under another name.

I hope this is a useful summary, please do not hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions or concerns.

Yours sincerely,

Professor Brian Cathcart
Director, Hacked Off