Prime Minister David Cameron was on Friday reported to be considering a BBC-style Royal Charter to create an independent press watchdog in the wake of the Leveson report whose key recommendation — a statutory regulatory mechanism — has been rejected by the government.
A Royal Charter, it is thought, would ensure that the new body is completely independent of the newspaper industry as its terms cannot be altered without the government’s approval. It would also protect the press from government interference — as in the case of the BBC.
Royal Charters have been used to establish a number of independent institutions including the Bank of England and various Royal Colleges.
Downing Street said the government was considering “a range of options” to make sure that the public had confidence in a new regulator.
“What we want to achieve is a proper independent regulator which commands the confidence of the public”, said the Prime Minister’s official spokesmancommenting on a report in The Daily Telegraph.
At a meeting with Editors, Mr. Cameron warned them that the government would be forced to act if they did not come up with a credible alternative to the Leveson proposal. The “clock is ticking away,” he told them.
Within hours, the Editors announced that they had agreed on a broad framework for an independent regulator that would meet 40 of Lord Leveson’s 47 recommendations.
“The editors of all national newspapers met yesterday and unanimously agreed to start putting in place the broad proposals — save the statutory underpinning — for the independent self-regulatory system laid out by Lord Justice Leveson,” they said in a statement after a breakfast meeting described by one Editor as “historic”.
“What happened this morning was really quite remarkable. I’ve never seen anything like it in my time as a journalist,” Chris Blackhurst, Editor of The Independent, told the BBC, stressing the spirit of cooperation in which the meeting was held.
Details of the proposed mechanism were not known but, according to The Guardian whose Editor Alan Rusbridger was among those who attended the high-profile meeting, the “agreement in principle is to create an independent body, with a chair appointed by a board — a majority of whom are separate from the press”.
“The proposed body will have the power to handle complaints, direct corrections, initiate investigations, levy fines of upto to £1 million and, if the government can play its part, run a cheap libel and privacy tribunal system that takes over the functions of the court,” said the paper.
Victims of media abuses, however, insisted on full implementation of the Leveson report — as did the opposition Labour Party and the Prime Minister’s coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats.