Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 24 September 2014

After 143 years of fine journalism, we will not sacrifice our integrity by signing up to the Royal Charter

Newspaper publishers will continue their fight over press regulation, despite the failure of legal efforts to stop a Royal Charter from being approved.
Newspaper publishers will continue their fight over press regulation, despite the failure of legal efforts to stop a Royal Charter from being approved.

As the controversy over press regulation continues, it is wise to remember the words of Lord Leveson, in his report. He said that by far the best solution to press standards would be a body, established and organised by the industry, which would provide genuinely independent regulation of its members. And that is exactly what the industry is attempting to do with the establishment of the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

It seems that even the government now recognises that this is the best way forward and not the cross-party Royal Charter which would create an official watchdog to oversee a new regulator and which would give politicians the ability to neuter the press for the first time in 300 years.

This is no alarmist sound bite but a reality. Politicians would only need to gain a two-thirds majority in the House of Commons to change the rules to something even more draconian the first time they were at daggers drawn with the Press. Given the feeling of many politicians towards the media, that majority would be easily gained.

But Culture Secretary Maria Miller shows that commonsense may be breaking out in government ranks.

She says she is happy for the press to go ahead with its own scheme if it provided effective regulation.

One look at the proposals for IPSO shows that it is the toughest self regulation in the western world, meeting demands for a majority of independent members on the organisation, having the ability to impose fines of up to £1m, having powers to call editors to account and to force them to publish corrections and providing an arbitration service which would be an alternative to the current costly libel court cases.

Of course there are still shrill voices opposing the self regulation of the press. Chief among those are the pressure group, Hacked Off, which makes ludicrous demands such as wanting the new regulator to have no previous connections with the press or knowledge of how it works. That is self-evidently stupid. Would we want the energy regulator, for example, to know nothing about that industry or does that knowledge make him or her a better qualified person?

This newspaper will not be signing up to the Royal Charter proposals.

We believe that the industry's plans present the best future for the press and for the protection of the public. As the current phone hacking trial shows, there are already effective laws in place for those who might stray beyond acceptable boundaries.

The press must be responsible, cannot be above the law but must be free to make mistakes as well as hold the powerful and famous to account.

The Belfast Telegraph has a proud 143-year history of reporting the events in this part of the world without fear or favour. Signing up to this Royal Charter and its political interference would sell short the ideals of the newspaper. We do not intend to do that.

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