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Press clause 'could be overridden'

Protections to stop political interference in regulation of the press could be swept away after the next election by a majority government, the Culture Secretary has conceded.

Maria Miller said that a clause demanding a two thirds parliamentary majority is reached before any changes are made to a royal charter could be overridden in the future.

It followed claims by MPs that the safeguard was a "parliamentary nonsense" that senior Commons officials believe could be replaced or changed after the 2015 general election.

The Press has refused to sign up to a new body overseeing self-regulation, claiming it introduced a degree of political influence which ''signed away three centuries of Press freedom''.

Conservative Conor Burns told the Culture, Media and Sport committee: "The advice that I have had when I have gone to talk to very senior clerks is that the two thirds is a parliamentary nonsense, that no parliament can bind a successor parliament and that if a successor parliament wanted to amend or change or bring in a different charter that they could do that by a simple majority."

Mrs Miller replied: "The principle behind that provision was to very much ensure that the charter could not be changed simply on the whim of ministers who are privy councillors at the time.

She added: "Of course a government can pass laws and with a simple majority in the House of Commons can change anything it wants to change but what I think we are doing in putting that provision in place is giving Parliament a very clear ability to be able to press any government on why it might not adhere to that and I think that is a really rather important thing to have been done."

Last month, Mrs Miller indicated the royal charter could become redundant if the industry's new watchdog, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso), proved successful.

Asked if she had meant to make such a suggestion, Mrs Miller told MPs it was not possible to mandate Press involvement in a self regulatory process "otherwise you will be having statutory process regulation".

She added: "I'm very pleased indeed with the progress the Press has been making in setting up Ipso and the support that is being garnered within the industry for the approach that is being taken."

Earlier this month the industry announced that Ipso, due to be launched next spring, had been backed by more than 90% of national newspapers.

T he Guardian, the Financial Times, and the Independent, however, are yet to sign up to the contract that sets up the new organisation to replace the Press Complaints Commission.

Shunning the system set out in the cross-party royal charter means that newspapers face the threat of exemplary damages if they end up fighting cases in court.

Mrs Miller said: "I think it is clear that if the Press self-regulatory body wishes to seek recognition that they will have to adhere to the rules set out, the framework set out within the charter.

"That's pretty clear. If people choose not to seek recognition that is their choice but ultimately they won't be able to benefit from the cost advantages that they would get if they were within the system."


From Belfast Telegraph