You would think that when all three main party leaders sign a solemn agreement, and when that agreement is approved by every single party in Parliament, whatever it was they all decided on would actually happen.
Think again. The draft Royal Charter on press self-regulation was agreed amid some fanfare on 18 March, but more than three months later nothing at all has been done to put it into action. And unless something changes in the next few days, nothing will happen until October.
Why? Until a week ago the delay could be explained by the spoiling tactics of the press bosses, which forced the Government to waste several weeks. But now there are no grounds for inaction.
Yet for reasons that are unclear but worrying, ministers are failing to act on Parliament’s clear instruction.
And while the delay goes on, everything that came out of the year-long Leveson Inquiry is left in limbo, and the day when the press barons and editors face a measure of accountability is pushed farther into the future. Real change could be years away.
It is amazing. Think back to July 2011 and the aftermath of the revelation that Milly Dowler’s phone had been hacked: MPs and ministers were falling over themselves to assure the public that things would change. Think back to last November and the publication of the Leveson Report: all three main party leaders endorsed the findings and promised action.
Now it seems that key politicians are treading water.
Where has the time gone? Back on 18 March, Parliament agreed to send the draft Royal Charter to be rubber-stamped by the Privy Council in May. Then a delay of seven weeks was agreed, for legal reasons, to deal with the spoiling tactics of the press body PressBoF. But those seven weeks expired more than a week ago, and still we hear only silence from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which is supposed to be carrying out Parliament’s instructions.
Now we learn that the next Privy Council meeting is on 10 July – and there may not be another one for weeks or even months.
Of course Privy Council approval is a bizarre mediaeval ritual, but it is vital if the work of putting the new Charter into action is to start. A delay of (say) three months would mean three months’ wait before the establishment of the new, independent inspection body whose job will be to check that the new press self-regulator is not another Press Complaints Commission.
Hacked Off calls on Maria Miller, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, to announce immediately that she has rejected the PressBoF draft charter and is sending Parliament’s Leveson-based Royal Charter to the Privy Council for approval on 10 July.
No doubt PressBoF is planning further legal manoeuvres, but a self-interested clique of newspaper bosses must not be allowed to stand in the way of Parliament’s will and nor would the Government allow any other vested interest to obstruct it in such a way. Mrs Miller should act now.
The minister, as we wrote here, has been the target of shameless intimidation tactics by leading national newspapers. We trust she is ignoring that and will not allow a small group of powerful press barons to frustrate the will of Parliament.
Brian Cathcart is Executive Director of Hacked Off.