Index responds to the Royal Charter
21 Mar 2013

In response to this week’s deal on press regulation, Index on Censorship chief executive Kirsty Hughes said:

“Index is against the introduction of a Royal Charter that determines the details of establishing a press regulator in the UK — the involvement of politicians undermines the fundamental principle that the press holds politicians to account. Politicians have now stepped in as ringmaster and our democracy is tarnished as a result.”

She also said:

“The fact that this requirement is now being applied to all Royal Charters is a rushed and fudged attempt to pretend this is not just a press law; it resembles precisely the kind of political manoeuvring we see in Hungary today – where the government is amending its own constitution through a parliamentary vote undermining key principles of their democracy.

In spite of David Cameron’s claims, there can be no doubt that what has been established is statutory underpinning of the press regulator. This introduces a layer of political control that is extremely undesirable. On this sad day, Britain has abandoned a democratic principle.

But beyond that, the Royal Charter’s loose definition of a ‘relevant publisher’ as a ‘website containing news-related material’ means blogs could be regulated under this new law as well. This will undoubtedly have a chilling effect on everyday people’s web use.

Bloggers could find themselves subject to exemplary damages in court, due to the fact that they were not part of a regulator that was not intended for them in the first place. This mess of legislation has been thrown together with alarming haste: there’s little doubt we’ll repent for a while to come.”

In addition to issues over damages, there have been further problems raised about apologies. Index’s News Editor Padraig Reidy said:

“There are also concerns about the proposed regulator’s power to “direct” the placement of apologies.

Again, this is “Leveson compliant” — the Lord Justice himself stated “The power to direct the nature, extent and placement of apologies should lie with the Board”.

This is also really problematic, suggesting as it does that a Quango can determine what is and isn’t published in newspapers, and where. This may seem angel-on-pinhead stuff, but there is a world of difference between “direct” and “require”. While apologies may be desirable, it’s simply not safe to give an external power with state underpinning the power to tell editors what to put in papers. Forced publication is a sinister perversion of free expression, and has no place in the British press or anywhere else.”

Read our analysis of the Leveson Inquiry report’s recommendations here.

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