Q&A: Press regulation

Copy of the News of the World Press regulation faced intense scrutiny in the wake of phone hacking at the News of the World

Politicians and the press have been at odds over the details of a royal charter to underpin a new system of industry self-regulation in England and Wales in the wake of the Leveson inquiry.

In March, the main political party leaders, David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, agreed to set up a new watchdog by royal charter, with powers to impose million-pound fines on UK publishers and demand upfront apologies from them.

The newspapers said some of the recommendations were unworkable and gave politicians an "unacceptable degree of interference".

They submitted a rival royal charter proposal which has been rejected by the Privy Council - the body that formally advises the Queen.

A final version of the government's royal charter was published on 11 October and approved by the Privy Council on 30 October.

How did the issue of press regulation come to be discussed?

In July 2011, Prime Minister David Cameron set up the public, judge-led Leveson Inquiry to examine the culture of the press in response to the phone-hacking scandal.

It emerged thousands of people had been victims of press intrusion. Many gave evidence to the inquiry - from celebrities such as comic actor Steve Coogan and singer Charlotte Church, to ordinary people hit by tragedy, including Gerry McCann, father of missing girl Madeleine, and the parents of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.

The report produced by Lord Justice Leveson in November 2012 found the press had "wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people". It made a number of recommendations.

What were Leveson's key recommendations?

In his November 2012 report, Lord Justice Leveson suggested:

• Newspapers should continue to be self-regulated - and the government should have no power over what they publish

• There had to be a new press standards body created by the industry, with a new code of conduct

• That body should be backed by legislation, which would create a means to ensure the regulation was independent and effective

• The arrangement would provide the public with confidence that their complaints would be dealt with seriously - and ensure the press were protected from interference

What happened next?

After some disagreement between the main parties, a deal was struck in March at a meeting also attended by campaigners against media intrusion.

The parties decided that an independent regulator with powers to demand prominent corrections and apologies from UK news publishers and impose £1m fines would be established by royal charter.

They said the charter, which defined news publishers as newspapers, magazines or websites containing news-related material, could be amended only if there was a two-thirds majority in both houses of Parliament.

A free arbitration service for victims and a fast complaints system would be established to ensure all individuals could afford to pursue action against publishers.

Two changes to existing laws were required to make it in publishers' interests to sign up to the new regulator - the legal threat of exemplary damages and a guarantee that the charter could be altered only with a two-thirds parliamentary majority.

A final draft was published on 11 October 2013, with changes including a small administration fee for arbitration, an opt-out of the arbitration scheme for local and regional newspapers if they can prove it causes "serious financial harm", and more involvement in decision making for the press and media industry.

What did the press have to say about all of this?

Newspapers and magazine publishers said they did not support the proposals announced in March, with the Newspaper Society saying it rejected "state-sponsored regulation".

Ultimately, a rival charter was submitted by the Newspaper Society, the Newspaper Publishers Association, the Professional Publishers Association and the Scottish Newspaper Society.

Culture Secretary Maria Miller told MPs it had been rejected after consideration by a Privy Council sub-committee because, "whilst there are areas where it is acceptable, it is unable to comply with some important Leveson principles and government policy".

According to Privy Council member Lord Wallace of Saltaire - a Liberal Democrat peer - it was considered before the government's proposals as a result of "some very fast footwork by the press board".

After the final draft of the government's Royal Charter plan was published in October, the industry said the proposals could not be described as either "voluntary or independent" and some feared it could give politicians too much power.

What next?

The royal charter agreed by the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour, was approved at a specially-convened Privy Council meeting on 30 October.

There is a possibility the newspaper industry will seek to appeal against this move.

In the meantime, newspapers will have to decide whether to sign up to the new system of regulation, the recognition body will be set up and the press will be expected to set up the self-regulator.

If, after a year, there is still no regulator in place, the recognition panel will be asked to report back to Parliament.

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New press regulator: Proposals compared
UK newspapers

Political involvement:

  • Government: Royal Charter could be amended by Parliament, but only if there was a two-thirds majority in both houses
  • Newspapers: Parliament could not block or approve any future changes to regulation. Instead the regulator, trade bodies and the regulator's panel would have to agree to changes

"Recognition" panel:

  • Government: Former editors would be banned from serving on the "recognition panel", which would decide whether newspapers were being regulated properly
  • Newspapers: Former editors would be allowed to serve and there would be a requirement for at least one member to have newspaper industry experience

Appointments process:

  • Government: Appointments committee to consist of no fewer than four members and no more than eight, none of whom could be a serving editor or MP
  • Newspapers: Want one of the members to "represent the interests of relevant publishers"

Corrections and apologies:

  • Government: Regulator to have the power to demand prominent corrections and apologies from publishers and impose £1m fines. Regulator board would "direct" the nature, extent and placement of corrections
  • Newspapers: Regulator to have the power to ensure "up-front corrections, with inaccuracies corrected fully and prominently" and to impose £1m fines for "systematic wrongdoing". However, the board would "require" rather than "direct" in relation to apologies

Arbitration:

  • Government: A small administration fee for complainants to be decided by the regulator and approved by the "recognition panel", and a fast complaints system would be established to ensure all individuals could afford to pursue action against publishers. Local and regional press can opt out if they can prove it causes "serious financial harm".
  • Newspapers: An arbitration service would offer "a speedy and inexpensive alternative to the libel courts, subject to the successful conclusion of a pilot scheme". Papers had been concerned a free service could lead to a surge of claims for damages
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