It is now ten months since Lord Justice Leveson made public the recommendations of his public inquiry into the press, and it is two years and three months since we learned that the News of the World hacked into the voicemails of a missing 13-year-old. By any measure, it is high time the politicians did something.
In the next few days they have their chance, because on 9 October the Privy Council meets and there is an opportunity to secure final approval of the Royal Charter that was approved by all parties in Parliament as long ago as 18 March.
Will the politicians act? Will the Government put the charter on the Privy Council agenda so that it may finally be nodded through by this arcane body? Or will they put the interests of the big papers before those of ordinary members of the public and allow further delay?
Already we have had to wait five extra months because politicians and officials treated with extraordinary seriousness a patently cynical spoiling manoeuvre by the publishers of the Mail, the Telegraph and the Sun. This was the PressBoF petition for a royal charter of their own, a document that could easily have been dismissed out of hand.
Elaborate procedural hoops have been jumped through, apparently to ensure that this can be rejected without legal challenge, wasting months in which the implementation of Parliament’s charter could have begun. If, as planned, the real charter had been approved in May, the scrupulous process of appointing an independent inspection body for the press regulator would now be almost complete. Instead, it has not started.
Always, the danger has been the political ‘long grass’ – the procedural obfuscation that prevents real action without ever revealing itself as a decision. That is what Murdoch wants, and what the bosses of the Mail and the Telegraph want.
So the leading politicians of the big parties now have a choice. They can play their part in implementing the recommendations of a properly-constituted, judge-led public inquiry. They can do what the whole House of Commons said should be done last March. They can comply with the wishes of past victims of press misconduct. And they can give the public – whose views have been made plain in countless polls – what they want.
Alternatively they can betray us all by caving in to a group of disgraced press bosses, and by so doing condemn countless more people to brutal, unfair treatment by unaccountable newspapers.
Brian Cathcart is the Executive Director of Hacked Off
you say that “on 9 October the Privy Council meets and there is an opportunity to secure final approval of the Royal Charter that was approved by all parties in Parliament as long ago as 18 March”.
Can you tell me / point me to the procedure that the cross-party Charter would have to go through to enable it to be approved by the Privy Council? Has there been an actual application to the Privy Council or is one not needed?
Hi Brian just chasing up on an answer to this.
Brian has asked me to reply.
The Privy Council can be considered an anachronistic institution which, as I understand it, has no formal rules of any kind. It is, in practice, a Cabinet Committee. It does not deliberate – it simply approves what ministers have put before it. I understand that in the case of a Charter like that of 18th March, which represents Government policy (as well as all-party agreement and overwhelming Parliamentary approval), there is no “application”. The document is simply put before the PC by ministers and then sealed.
You have often said that a Royal Charter is a bizarre way to do things like this. That is a view with which Hacked Off has much sympathy. It should be remembered that it was proposed, instead of the statutory approval process that Leveson recommended, by ministers anxious to appease the press industry lobby (not necessarily including the Guardian!).
PressBoF, by engaging with it through their own application for a Royal Charter, appear to be endorsing the approach.
Associate Director, Hacked Off
Thanks Evan, so there is no formal written down procedure?
Can you give me any examples where the Privy Council has previously dealt with “a Charter like that of 18th March, which represents Government policy ..”
When we spoke at the Media Law Conference a couple of weeks ago, i thought you said that the cross-party charter would go through the same process as the industry one and would be looked at in accordance with the same ‘rules”, which were publicly available on a website? Can you send me the link to ther website that you were referring to.
Two points that concern me about the suggestion that the PC will rubber stamp the cross-party charter without any consideration or public consultation:
(1) in her Ministerial Written Statement on 4 July, Maria Miller said “work has continued to prepare the charter published on 18 March for formal consideration to the Privy Council; she goes onto say that technical changes are needed to the 18 March version “to ensure its application in Scotland” and that “a legal technical review of the Charter has been undertaken as part of an overall assurance process. I will be publishing an updated version of the cross-party Charter in due course.”; and (2) on the PC website, no distinctions are drawn between “parliamentary Royal Charters” and others and under the heading “preliminary steps” it says “the fact of a formal Charter application will be publsihed by this office, to allow other interested individuals to comment or to lodge counter-petitions. Because the proces of Petitioning for a Charter is thus a public one …”
When you say …. “When we spoke at the Media Law Conference a couple of weeks ago, i thought you said that the cross-party charter would go through the same process as the industry one and would be looked at in accordance with the same ‘rules”, which were publicly available on a website?”….
I am pretty sure I said the opposite. I think there is an unheard “NOT” so it should read … “the cross-party charter would NOT [have to] go through the same process as the industry one and would be looked at in accordance with the same ‘rules”, which were publicly available on a website?
The terms (not so much rules) against which the PressBoF Charter was considered during and after the “period of openness” are indeed on the PC website. I believe the Privy Council sub-committee is now (or has just finished?!) considering it against “how well it delivers Government policy as set out in the 18th March Charter.”
Thanks Evan. Can you send me the link to the PC website where the terms are.