Royal Charter: Why we won’t sign up to the Government’s censorship
On Tuesday, this newspaper declared it will not sign up to the Government's Royal Charter on Press regulation. This means we will emphatically not be joining the politicians' scheme to underpin regulation of the Press with legislation.
It is a clear and decisive affirmation that we reject as a shabby deal the agreement cooked up between the three main UK political parties and the Hacked Off lobby group .
Not a single member of the media, nor any politician who supports voluntary regulation, nor even an independent arbitrator, were present when the controversial agreement was made; just the politicians and a group which views the UK's Press as a snarling enemy which needs shackled.
Never mind that only a tiny number of Britain's thousands of newspapers were guilty of malpractice — and that existing laws are very effectively dealing with that malpractice.
After 143 years of fine journalism, we will not sacrifice our integrity by signing up to the Royal Charter
So, the Belfast Telegraph gave notice that it will not sign the Royal Charter which, in our view, opens the door for politicians potentially to neuter the Press for the first time in 300 years.
Only a two-thirds majority is needed in the House of Commons to overturn the current plans and shackle the Press even further. It is not too difficult to imagine that happening in more illiberal times.
You might think that the Telegraph's declaration that it won't sign up to the Royal Charter is merely tilting at windmills.
This is not the case; the Government has bared its teeth, making clear that newspapers which don't sign the charter leave themselves open to exemplary damages in the event of losing a libel case — by sheer dint of not having signed up to official Press regulation.
Setting aside the legal propriety of that — which I think would be unsustainable under law — the fact is that the industry's own proposed charter, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso), which the Telegraph is committing itself to, is the toughest voluntary Press regulatory regime in the world.
Editors who stray will face a range of Ipso sanctions, including fines of up to £1m. There isn't an editor in the land, even among the big-budget papers in Fleet Street, who wouldn't quake at the thought of £1m being taken from his or her budget.
There will be a formidable |edifice of compliance regulation, which editors and publishers will be bound into by formal contract. There will also be a pilot scheme of a free arbitration service (which many editors do not want, as they fear it will push costs and vexatious complaints through the roof).
There was a slight warming of relations between Government and Press this week, when the UK culture secretary, Maria Miller, said the politicians' charter to regulate the Press could become redundant if newspapers make a success of their regulatory body.
Superficially, this new stance appears to be good news for the Press. But another development this week tempered any relief.
Tory Party chairman Grant Shapps issued a blunt threat to the BBC that it might lose the right to the licence fee over its perceived culture of waste, secrecy and its allegedly unbalanced reporting.
His remarks may have been aimed at the BBC, but they are a disturbing insight into how politicians will use all available levers to influence the media — and are, therefore, a warning why they should not be granted any ability to neutralise newspapers.
Belfast Telegraph Digital