U.K. Press Regulation Royal Charter Is Approved By the Queen

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Justice Brian Leveson

The plans to create a watchdog to oversee a new British press regulator is given the go-ahead as last-ditch attempts by the newspaper industry to halt it fails.

LONDON -- The last-ditch attempt by the British newspaper industry to halt the parliamentary process for the Royal Charter on press reform has failed and the Charter will now create a watchdog to oversee a new U.K. press regulator.

The attempts by the might of the British press to introduce a court injunction against the Privy Council's consideration of the charter was rejected by Court of Appeal judges Wednesday (Oct. 30).

The British government said later the same day that the new cross-party royal charter on press regulation has been granted by the Privy Council, rubber-stamping its go-ahead.

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Editors had argued that their alternative proposals to the Charter were not properly considered.

The system will mean punitive penalties on publications that choose not to sign up, but there are already rumblings across the traditionally combative U.K. newspaper industry that it may be the first Charter that "no one signs up" to.

A spokesman for the Department for Culture Media and Sport said: "Acting on the advice of the government, the Privy Council has granted the cross-party royal charter. Both the industry and the government agree independent self-regulation of the press is the way forward and that a royal charter is the best framework."

The DCMS acknowledged that there are still questions remaining over how it will work in practice and said it would "continue to work with the industry, as we always have."

Earlier in the day, Roger Alton, executive editor of the Times of London, published by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.'s News U.K. division, told the influential BBC morning news program Radio 4's Today that the Royal Charter was "extraordinarily depressing" for the industry.

"The idea that somehow a deal stitched up between a few politicians over pizzas and a handful of lobbyists from Hacked Off [the Hugh Grant fronted pressure group], which is essentially an anti-newspaper group, the idea that such a deal is the thing that now controls the press, which is one of the most vital safeguards in our democracy, I find extraordinarily depressing, very sad.... It will be resisted," said Alton, one of the most respected newspapermen in the U.K. 

According to the DCMS, a royal charter "will protect freedom of the press whilst offering real redress when mistakes are made. Importantly, it is the best way of resisting full statutory regulation that others have tried to impose."

The Royal Charter arrives as across London the criminal phone-hacking trial against the former CEO of News International and editor of the now-closed News of the World Rebekah Brooks, former communications adviser of British Prime Minister David Cameron and former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, along with six others, heard the prosecution's opening statements.

The fresh move for a new look on press regulation has been birthed following the phone-hacking affair and subsequent Leveson Inquiry into the ethics and practices of newspapers.

Publishers had until 17:30 GMT on Wednesday to try to stop the politicians' charter being approved, which they argue could allow governments to encroach on press freedom.

Earlier on Wednesday, High Court judges refused publishers a last-minute injunction and said there were no grounds for a judicial review.

Hours later, publishers appealed to Court of Appeal judges to reconsider that decision.

In a joint statement, the newspapers said the newspaper and magazine industry had been denied the right properly to make their case that the Privy Council's decision to reject their charter was "unfair and unlawful."

The Privy Council, whose active members must be government ministers, meets in private to formally advise the Queen to approve "Orders" which have already been agreed on by ministers.

According to the BBC and other news outlets, the latest Privy Council meeting, held at Buckingham Palace, was attended by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Culture Secretary Maria Miller and Justice Minister Lord McNally of Blackpool.

Both politicians and the press agreed there should be a "recognition panel" to oversee a press self-regulation committee with powers to impose fines of up to $1.6 million on newspapers for wrongdoing.

Hacked Off, fronted by Grant, issued its own statement expressing relief that the Leveson Inquiry's recommendations "can finally be implemented, eleven months after they were made, and that the courts have rejected the efforts of the big newspaper companies to sabotage the process."

The statement described news publishers as having 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."

A Hacked Off spokesman said: "We urge them to take this opportunity. It is what the Inquiry recommended, what the public and the victims of press abuse expect, and what all parties in Parliament have united behind.

"The time has come for the newspaper companies to listen to all of those voices, including the vast majority of their readers, and to distance themselves from a past marred by bullying, fabrication and intrusion.

"The press should seize the chance to show the public they do not fear being held to decent ethical standards, and that they are proud to be accountable to the people they write for and about."

All eyes will be on Murdoch's Twitter feed and the debate will likely rage in the newspapers tomorrow (Oct. 31).