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Tuesday 30 April 2013

Leveson – No Stopping It Now

The rival Royal Charter put forward by the Murdoch, Barclay Brothers, Rothermere and Desmond press has now been submitted for consideration at the next meeting of the Privy Council. The Fourth Estate is clearly in Ron Hopeful mode as regards getting it signed off by Brenda. They’re having a laugh: it doesn’t stand a snowball in Hell’s chance of getting that far.

So why are the owners and editors so convinced? Well, according to the press, they’ve taken legal advice, and have been advised that any Royal Charter application “rendered controversial by a counter-petition is unlikely to succeed”. In other words, their counter to the 18 March Charter will somehow take it out of the game, like a take-out shot in bowls.

Added to this is the constantly repeated mantra that no title has yet agreed to sign up to the 18 March deal, which is held to therefore invalidate it. But it hasn’t yet been approved, and what the press do not seem to notice is that the incentives built in to the new system of self-regulation allow for the framework to be put in place and for the participants to come on board in their own time.

Robert Hazell of UCL has concluded that, unless the Government reconsiders, the press will be shown to have been given rather poor legal advice. As he points out, the Privy Council is just there to nod through what has already been agreed by Parliament. And Parliament has concluded that the Royal Charter agreed on March 18 is the one that will go forward for approval.

This has not stopped the last-minute protests, such as that made by Press Gazette editor Dominic Ponsford in the Staggers, who attempts to advance the idea that the differences between the two Royal Charters are slight, and that a deal can be done. But they aren’t, and it won’t be: as Evan Harris has pointed out to Ponsford, what the press is proposing is just a reheated PCC.

With Culture Secretary Maria Miller’s aides saying the Government will not be abandoning its plans, that means the rival Royal Charter is a dead duck. The 18 March Charter will be signed off and the framework for a new system of press self-regulation will be in place. The only reason there is less than wall to wall frothing about the affair right now is because of this week’s local Government elections.

Expect the usual suspects to return to their character assassination of anyone connected to the Leveson Inquiry, and any politician who does not support their attempt to reinvent the discredited PCC by the back door, as soon as those elections are over and the results have been declared. There will be one last orgy of kicking and screaming, but ultimately reform will come.

And they will, one by one, sign up to it in the months ahead. And that will be that.

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