Newspapers spurn Government press regulation proposals

A number of the newspaper industry’s biggest publishers have spurned Government plans to create a new press watchdog in favour of an alternative system it insists will “offer real protection for the public”.

Newspaper chiefs want to self regulate over fears politicians could exert control over what they publish.

Publishers representing the national and local newspaper and magazine industry are to submit proposals for a regulatory body that would be based closely on the Government-backed Royal Charter but independent of state-sponsored regulation.

In a joint statement issued through the Newspaper Society, publishers warn the Government’s regulator plans following Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry gives politicians “an unacceptable degree of interference in the regulation of the press”.

The group adds the industry’s rival proposal for self-regulation is a “workable, practical way to deliver the Leveson recommendations”. It has “widespread backing” across the industry according to the Newspaper Society and would have the power to impose fines of up to £1m for breaches of its code of conduct.

Most of the body’s members would require senior board-level experience and be independent from both the press and the Government. The public would also have a say on the drafting of a new code of practice for editors – something that has not been offered in the Government’s initiative.

The initiative has been spearheaded by The Sun owner News International, Telegraph Media Group and the Associated Newspapers, which owns the Daily Mail.

Dominic Mohan, editor of The Sun says: “Sun readers expect journalists to behave responsibly, but don’t want them censored by a state-sponsored Ministry of Truth. This constructive proposal would create a tough but independent regulator supported by the vast majority of the industry – a workable solution which should command public confidence.”

The industry statement adds: “This Royal Charter proposal will deliver on Leveson and bind the UK’s national and local newspapers and magazines to a tough enduring system of regulation – tougher than anywhere else in the Western world – which will be of real benefit to the public at the same time as protecting freedom of speech.”

It follows Leveson’s proposals for the current Press Complaints Commission to be overhauled and replaced with a new independent self-regulatory body. The Government revealed plans to sponsor the scheme last month, however newspaper chiefs are concerned it would give politicians to much control over what is – and is not – reported.

Ian Twinn, ISBA director of public affairs, says: “Newspapers must feel comfortable with what they are signing up to and unified in their support of a new press regulator, otherwise it simply won’t work. So, it is good news that there is now an acceptable level of accord within the industry itself to self-regulate. We believe self-regulation can be applied to restore public trust and be fair and proportionate to the industry; a model which works well with advertising.

“We mustn’t lose sight of why action is needed, there are two equally important issues: first is a free press unfettered by government, second effective and independent redress for those who need it.”

The alternative charter aims to help restore trust in the press. Media experts have previously told Marketing Week any new press body formed must look to raise consumer awareness of its responsibilities and make it more accessible to establish a “recognised brand of trusted journalism”.

The newspaper industry’s proposals include the following:

  • Titles found in breach of codes of practice to be fined up to £1m.
  • Corrections to inaccuracies would have to be made in-full and up-front.
  • The regulator would have the power to investigate claims of wrongdoing and call editors to account.
  • Nearly all independent members would be appointed openly and transparently.
  • The public will have a say in how the new code of practice is drafted.