Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Royal Charter to regulate press is no political ruse

Your editorial (October 31, 2013) concerning the Royal Charter on press regulation expresses the fears of many smaller regional papers about political interference in the freedom of the press, but those fears are ill-founded.

As someone who worked in human rights in Northern Ireland for many years, and was also a victim of hacking, I too support freedom of expression.

And I have no reason to believe that papers such as yours played any part in the hacking scandal which gave rise to the Leveson Inquiry and, ultimately, the Royal Charter.

However, no good doctor minds being subject to regulation if it stops the activities of those who are bringing their profession into disrepute, and the same should also apply to the newspaper industry.

You suggest that the present criminal trials show that there is no need for regulation.

However, the criminal law does nothing to stop newspapers printing details of a suicide which may provoke copy-cat deaths – only a strong ethical lead taken within the industry itself can achieve safeguards against that sort of mischief.

No-one who has read the Royal Charter will find anything in it that smacks of political interference.

It simply provides a mechanism for ensuring that any self-regulatory body established by the press is effective and independent, unlike the wholly discredited Press Complaints Commission.

And it specifically prohibits any regulator from dictating or suppressing any story any paper wants to print.

The fear that those newspapers who failed in their court bid to stop the charter from being promulgated is that some future government will use the clause that allows a two-thirds majority in both houses of Parliament to alter the Charter.

Were there to be any attempt to curb the freedom of the press, those of us who campaigned for sensible self-regulation would also campaign for your right to print all the news that's fit to print – a right which you retain and which is not under any threat whatsoever from recent developments.

Jane Winter

London

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