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No room for negotiation on Charter

A senior Cabinet minister closely involved in the work to set up a new system of press regulation has indicated that the Government will go ahead with its plans for a Royal Charter despite an industry legal challenge and fears that publishers will not sign up to a new regulator.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said significant amendments had already been made to cross-party plans for a Royal Charter to regulate the press which is expected to be approved by the Privy Council on Wednesday.

He appeared to indicate that there is no further room for negotiation despite newspaper and magazine publishers' legal challenge to the Privy Council's decision to reject rival industry plans for press regulation.

Mr Alexander, who sat on the committee that rejected the industry's proposed Royal Charter, told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "We have amended the cross-party charter in the light of some of the things we have learnt from our consideration of the press's charter. That will go to the Privy Council later this month.

"Once that charter is sealed, then I hope very much that, over time and on reflection, the media sector will decide that it wants to play its part in making sure that many of the problems that we have seen in the media sector over many years aren't able to happen again."

He indicated that there was no room for further negotiation with the industry before the October 30 meeting at which the Privy Council is expected to approve the cross-party charter.

Asked if ministers were ready for further concessions to the industry, Mr Alexander said: "We are now going to take the charter to the Privy Council, have that charter agreed and go forward from there."

Shadow culture secretary Harriet Harman moved to ease fears that most publishers will follow the lead of The Spectator magazine and refuse to sign up to a press regulator created under the Government charter.

Ms Harman claimed that if one publisher signs up to the regulator it would then "switch on" a system of incentives and disincentives that would mean other publishers would follow suit.

She told the Andrew Marr Show: "If they don't (sign up) I am absolutely certain that some publisher or another will come forward, establish a regulator which has got a complaints system which is then recognised and sort of authorised and then that switches on a system of incentives and disincentives and that's the framework that was suggested by Leveson."

Asked if a small publisher of a local paper signing up to a Government-backed regulator would create incentives for the likes of broadsheet national newspapers to sign up, she said: "What it does is it switches on the incentives and disincentives because at that point any newspaper could join the regulator.

"The incentives are that actually you could have arbitration of complaints against your newspaper which is cheaper and quicker than actually having the civil courts.

"The disincentives are that actually if you don't sign up to the regulator and somebody's got a complaint that then ends up in court because it's a libel or a breach of privacy because it's a breach of civil law then you won't be able to claim your costs against the other side."

The rival royal charters are similar in many respects. Both would create a "recognition panel" to oversee an independent self-regulatory body with powers to impose fines of up to £1 million on newspapers for wrongdoing.

However, while the press charter would require industry-wide approval for any amendments, the politicians' version could be changed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament, sparking fears within the industry that future governments could seek to encroach upon media freedom.

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