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Papers to continue regulation fight

Newspapers and magazines are set to carry on their fight over press regulation after a last ditch legal challenge failed to prevent a cross-party Royal Charter being approved.

The charter - which the Government insists offers the press the best alternative to full statutory regulation - was formally sealed by the Queen following a Privy Council meeting at Buckingham Palace.

It establishes a new recognition body which is intended to oversee a powerful new regulator set up by the industry with the power to levy fines of up to £1 million.

But it is opposed by most newspapers over concerns it opens the door to political interference in the freedom of the press.

A final flurry of amendments - including a requirement that any future changes to the charter would require the unanimous agreement of the recognition body's board as well as a two thirds majority of both Houses of Parliament - failed to allay those fears.

In a leader article, The Daily Telegraph said it would not endorse the Royal Charter and would "continue to fight" any political control.

The late changes still left open the possibility "that politicians could conspire to attack the press" - a scenario that recent events showed was not unimaginable, it suggested.

"The Guardian's recent investigation into state spying is exactly the kind of reporting that could spark a moral panic among politicians and give them cause to limit what the press can publish.

"If Parliament can find the numbers to impose a royal charter upon the industry, it can also find the numbers necessary to censor it.

"It is, therefore, unsurprising that publishers are refusing to endorse the Royal Charter - or that The Daily Telegraph is among them."

Industry sources indicated that a full appeal would be lodged within the next seven days against refusal of the High Court to grant a judicial review of a previous Privy Council decision to reject an alternative charter put forward by the industry.

Even if that appeal fails, it is clear some publications will simply refuse to sign up to a system underpinned by the politicians' charter, despite threat of exemplary damages in any court action they are involved in if they do not.

The announcement that the Privy Council had granted the charter - at a meeting attended by four ministers: Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Culture Secretary Maria Miller and the Liberal Democrat justice minister, Lord McNally of Blackpool - came at the end of a day of high drama in the courts.

After the High Court rejected an application by newspapers and magazines for an injunction and judicial review, the industry then applied for an emergency injunction at the Court of Appeal.

But at 4.45pm - just 45 minutes before the Privy Council was due to meet - the news came that Lord Dyson, Master of the Rolls, sitting with two other Court of Appeal judges, had refused.

In a joint statement the Newspaper Society, the Newspaper Publishers Association, the Scottish Newspaper Society and the Professional Publishers Association said they were "deeply disappointed" with the rulings by the courts.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport acknowledged that questions remained as to how the new system would work in practice and that it would continue to seek to work with the industry.

"A Royal Charter will protect freedom of the press whilst offering real redress when mistakes are made. Importantly, it is the best way of resisting full statutory regulation that others have tried to impose," a spokesman said.

Hacked Off, the lobby group which has led the campaign for tighter regulation, welcomed the announcement, saying it would enable the recommendations of the Leveson inquiry into press standards to be implemented.

"News publishers now have a great opportunity to join a scheme that will not only give the public better protection from press abuses, but will also uphold freedom of expression, protect investigative journalism and benefit papers financially," a spokesman said.

"We urge them to take this opportunity. It is what the inquiry recommended, what the public and the victims of press abuse expect, and what all parties in Parliament have united behind.

"The press should seize the chance to show the public they do not fear being held to decent ethical standards, and that they are proud to be accountable to the people they write for and about."

Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, said: "This is disappointing and it is a pity the Queen has been brought into controversy.

"Royal charters are usually granted to those who ask for one - not forced upon an industry or group that doesn't want it.

"The important thing is that the press has moved a long way to create a robust new regulator by next spring, taking on board Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations including £1 million fines, orders to make corrections, investigative powers and an independent board with no serving editors in the regulatory system.

"Those who seem to want to neuter the press forget that there are 20 national papers, 1,100 regional and local papers and hundreds of magazines who have not done any wrong but they are willing to submit themselves to the scrutiny of the most powerful regulator in the Western world, so long as it is independent of politicians now and in the future."

The Times said today that the argument will now be taken to the Court of Appeal following the "shambles to which the regulation of the British press descended".

"Now all British national and regional publishers will press ahead with setting up their own regulator and will not seek recognition from this flawed Royal Charter," it said in a leader article.

It continued: "There is now the prospect that press regulation will become a Mexican stand-off in which no authority is recognised.

"Or that two parallel systems will run, one with the imprimatur of the Royal Charter and one without.

"Either way, it is a mess entirely of the making of a political class that seeks control of an unruly press."

The Daily Mail also condemned the latest developments as a "judicial farce".

In a leader article it said: "So much for the home of justice, transparency and due process of law.

"With the Press overwhelmingly opposed to recognising the new regulator, who knows that will happen next?

"All that's certain is that yesterday's judicial farce (which many will be forgiven for thinking was an Establishment stitch-up) has deeply worrying implications for free expression and democracy."

Former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan said the new charter would make "absolutely no difference".

"I think the whole thing is a complete and utter farce and I don't speak as somebody who is actively involved in the higher echelons of Fleet Street any more. I haven't been for nearly a decade," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"We are apparently heading down this extraordinary route where politicians are going to be dictating, along with Hugh Grant and Steve Coogan, those great moral bastions from the world of entertainment, are going to apparently be dictating what newspapers can and can't print."

He added: "It has to be resolved in a more sensible manner, with a bit of leeway on both sides because there's no doubt that the press probably needed to be reined in. There's no doubt that that reining in process has happened pretty emphatically."

Asked if he needed to be reined in while at the helm of the Daily Mirror, he replied: "Yes, I think every editor does.

"But I would point out that Britain has some of the most draconian laws, both civil and criminal, against newspapers, journalists and editors anywhere in the world.

"The idea you now need more is ridiculous."

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg denied the charter would allow political interference in the press, claiming the two-thirds majority needed in Parliament, along with the agreement of the recognition board, was put in place to prevent tampering.

On his weekly LBC 97.3 Call Clegg show, he said: "The whole point about the provisions in the cross-party charter, which has now been adopted at the Privy Council, is in order to stop politicians tampering with it in the future.

"What we sought to do was to make sure that politicians can't simply capriciously change that arrangement, because that would indeed be dangerous."

Asked about the secrecy surrounding last night's Privy Council, he said: "Shall I tell you what happened yesterday? Because it is so straightforward.

"It is simply a decision to adopt the charter. There was no discussion of its content, there was no discussion of a single word of the charter.

"It is simply to provide the imprimatur, if you like, of the Privy Council of the Royal Charter, which has been debated, dissected, discussed, argued over for months and months and months in public."


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