In this essay, I will discuss the implications of the Royal Charter on the free press and the affect this has and will have on newspaper publications in the future. I shall also talk about the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), and the Editors Code of Practice. Since the Royal Charter has been proposed, publications across the United Kingdom have been wary of the repercussions that will face them once the Royal Charter becomes effective.
The most essential part of the keeping the press in line is the Press Complaints Commission. Protecting the rights of individuals in the media whilst also preserving the rights of expression for the press, the PCC serve the public, and hold the newspaper editors to account. The Leveson Inquiry, set up by David Cameron in July 2011 following the revelations of phone-hacking by the News of the World, meant that regulation of the press was firmly thrust into the spotlight. Lord Justice Leveson led the public inquiry by considering the culture and ethics of the press. Leveson has stated, “I do not believe that the independent self-regulatory regime that I proposed in any sense impacts the freedom of the press to publish what it wants.”
Journalists have a duty to report about the topics the general public is most interested in; if the newspapers violate their news sources, for instance, they report about a public figure when an injunction has been ordered; they name a defendant in a court proceeding when they cannot legally be named; or reporters hack into telephone messages for information, they are breaking the law and are in breach of the Editors Code of Practice. In future, to make sure nothing of a sort happens again, the Royal Charter will act as a restrictive barrier.
However, journalists who take advantage of their role in the media not only ruin trust in the profession, but can also ruin lives, harm reputations and affect the relationships of those involved. Mick Hume, author of There is No Such Thing as a Free Press argued that, “Far from needing more regulation and regimentation, what the press needs is greater freedom and openness. And to show how, while everybody pays lip service to the importance of press freedom, in the real world it is being muffled under a choke-hold of conformism.” This could be because Hume was a journalist for several newspapers and magazines, and he thinks that the press should not buckle under the threat of political traditionalism.
On the other hand, the Press Complaints Commission has to oblige to the general public, making sure that the information that the newspaper publications publish is not offensive or unlawful. The campaign leaders for tighter press regulation, Hacked Off, have said, “News publishers now have a great opportunity to join a scheme that will not only give the public better protection from press abuses but will also uphold freedom of expression, protect investigative journalism and benefit papers financially.”
This Royal Charter will manage a secondary, independent self-regulatory group, which have been set up by the publications that would like to join, along with the Press Complaints Commission. The PCC has attracted a lot of criticism in the aftermath of the phone-hacking scandal and its failings to investigate in other areas of reporting in the press. As a result, the Royal Charter offered by Leveson means that a fully-functioning, effective regulatory body will monitor the press in order to avoid any damaging information being reported about in future.
Chris Huhne, a former MP for the Liberal Democrats, has said that the uproar from newspapers is a little premature, in a sense that what they believe the Royal Charter will do is not necessarily what will happen. For instance, Huhne wrote for The Guardian’s website, “The Royal Charter does not establish any regulation of the press: it will set up a body to certify that any self-regulator created by newspapers is independent. There is no question of any pre-publication censorship: all complaints to any self-regulatory panel will be investigated after the event, in the same way as with the existing Press Complaints Commission.”
In the instigation of the Privy Council approved Royal Charter, the Press Complaints Commission will be replaced by a new regulator, having more power than the PCC. This will include a watchdog to make sure that said regulator remains independent. The self-regulatory systems will be set up by the newspaper publications that choose to join with the Royal Charter. In addition to this, a similar arrangement to the Press Complaints Commission, there will be a panel of board members, with the majority of non-journalists being a part of it. It has also been stated that, “Crucially, there would be no serving editors on the board. In contrast, seven out of the PCC’s 17 commissioners are serving editors.”
The BBC News website also identified that the regulator of the Royal Charter would have a standards code, “It would be advised by a code committee on which serving editors have ‘an important part to play’ but not a decisive one. The code must protect freedom of speech. It would cover how journalists behave in getting hold of information, their respect for privacy when there’s no public interest justification, and accuracy.” The regulatory system that will go into effect will be able to fine the publications that break the Editors Code of Practice, unlike the PCC, which do not have penalties if a code has been violated.
The Chartered Institute of Journalism claim that the publishers who resist from joining the Royal Charter are being coerced by the threat of exemplary claims damages. The Institute went on to state, “For the courts to punish a defendant for choosing not to do something that the law does not require him to do offends profoundly against a basic principle of English law and tenets of natural justice.” A threat that the members of the Chartered Institute of Journalism feel is blackmail against them if they refuse to let the Royal Charter take effect against their newspapers.
In conclusion, the Royal Charter does not threaten the free press as much as the newspapers let on. The Leveson Inquiry investigated the regulatory systems that the press has, and concluded that these bodies are not efficient enough for the protection of information, thus creating this Royal Charter, which will monitor the newspapers and make sure that the PCC is acting correctly when faced with a press complaint. The freedom of the press will not be compromised because of the Royal Charter; if a newspaper wishes to set up a self-regulatory body independently of the PCC, it will fall under the jurisdiction of the Royal Charter.
However, newspapers are not happy about this as the editor’s feel that their freedom of expression is being restricted. As the Royal Charter is an opt-in structure, most newspaper editors and journalists have decided to boycott this as their main viewpoint is that press freedom is not theirs to give away, and should not be decided on by politicians. In addition, the press feels that the threat of Royal Charter has been to blackmail the newspaper publications to sign up to the new regulator, or be punished “by [using] provisions that [will] lead to large legal bills for claims [that] would discourage journalists and their employers from engaging ‘in a proper scrutiny of public affairs’.” Members of the Chartered Institute of Journalism consider this as prohibited in English law.
The two opposing sides: Members of Parliament, the Privy Council and press regulation campaign leaders, against the journalists, tabloids and newspaper publications, have very differing views on what the Royal Charter means for the free press. Whatever the MPs say about this regulatory system is little comfort for the editors and publishers, as they are feeling the force and intimidation of the Royal Charter against the future of their newspapers and the openness and freedom in which they have to report.
 Lucy Britt. (2013). Royal Charter for Press Regulation – The End of a Free Press?. Available: http://www.journalism-now.co.uk/royal-charter-press-regulation-end-free-press/. Last accessed 28th Dec 2013.
 Mick Hume (2012). There is No Such Thing as a Free Press. Exeter: Imprint Academic.
 BBC. (2013). Press Regulation: Privy Council Grants Royal Charter. Available: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-24746137. Last accessed 28th Dec 2013.
 Chris Huhne. (2013). What’s All The Fuss About The Royal Charter Meaning The End of Press Freedom?. Available: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/03/press-self-regulation-leveson-censorship. Last accessed 2nd Jan 2014.
 Tom de Castella. (2013). Press Regulation: The 10 Major Questions. Available: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24710506. Last accessed 2nd Jan 2014.
 Ian Burrell. (2013). Press Regulation: Judge for Yourself – The Royal Charter in Full. Available: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/press/press-regulation-judge-for-yourself–the-royal-charter-in-full-8910572.html. Last accessed 4th Jan 2014.
 Gavriel Hollander. (2013). CIoJ Rejects Both Royal Charters as ‘Coercive’ and Threatening to Investigative Journalism. Available: http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/cioj-rejects-both-royal-charters-coercive-and-threatening-investigative-journalism. Last accessed 4th Jan 2014.
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