Having seen their bid to block the Royal Charter thoroughly rubbished by two High Court judges on 30 October, the big newspaper groups are going back for more. A statement from PressBoF, the people behind the discredited Press Complaints Commission, said it was appealing against the judges’ refusal of permission for a judicial review of the Privy Council’s decision to reject its bid for a Royal Charter.
As ever with Press this was not quite right. The statement was issued on 6 November but no documents were lodged with the Court until 11 November. And it is not an appeal but an “application for permission to appeal” – one stage back in the process. And, in fact, at the moment nothing at all is happening at present because they have not put in the right documents.
But let’s stand back for a moment and look at what has happened to the PressBoF attempts to derail the Leveson proposals.
First their Royal Charter scheme was thrown out and they were upset. Then their attempt to have that decision overturned was thrown out too, and they were upset again. And then the judges said they couldn’t appeal against that rejection, so they were upset a third time.
So now they are applying for permission to appeal against the decision not to allow them permission to seek to object to the original decision not to allow them to have their own charter.
In case that’s not confusing enough, it’s worth remembering that PressBoF is doing all of this ostensibly in the hope that the Queen in Privy Council will grant it a Royal Charter, at a time when PressBoF’s most loyal cheerleaders, the Mail, the Telegraph and the Murdoch papers, are all furiously denouncing the whole idea of the Queen in Privy Council granting Royal Charters relating to self-regulation of the press.
Here are the comments of Lord Guy Black, chairman of PressBoF (and, in case we forget, a politician who takes the Tory whip):
‘The imposition by the Privy Council of a Royal Charter on our industry raises hugely significant questions about a free press, a free society and the quality of our democracy.
‘Quite apart from the threat to press freedom in the UK, it will have terrible reverberations across the Commonwealth and the developing world. The stakes are extremely high.
‘We do not believe that a hastily convened hearing for an emergency injunction application is an appropriate venue for giving proper consideration to these vital issues. We are confident our appeal will succeed.’
Lord Black has questions of his own to answer about a free press. PressBoF’s draft charter, which he appears so determined to revive from the dead, would allow working party politicians (such as Lord Black) to hold senior posts in both a press self-regulator and in the chartered inspection body. How free is that?
And the same draft charter would allow government ministers to alter the charter terms at will without public debate. How free is that?
And the ‘hastily convened hearing for an emergency injunction application’ that was such an inappropriate venue for decision-making: whose idea was that? It was PressBoF’s. It had time to act earlier, but it chose not to.
How much money has the British press – which continues to lay off journalists and close down investigation units – spent on its attempts to derail the implementation of the recommendations of a judicial inquiry which are backed by an overwhelming majority of the public? It has produced expensive legal opinion after legal opinion, bombarded the Government will legal letters and now spent tens of thousands of pounds on legal proceedings. Perhaps, in accordance with its well known commitment to openness PressBoF would like to tell the public how much it has spent so far on its anti-Leveson campaign?
There is no principle of any kind behind these PressBoF antics. Like the original charter bid, which was cynical and incomplete, the only objective is to wreck or cause delay.
We may be confident that the Court of Appeal will swat them away just as the lower court did. And we may be sure that just as PressBoF bosses have refused to listen to Lord Justice Leveson, to all parties in Parliament, to the overwhelming majority of the British public and to the victims of their own past abuses, they won’t listen to the Appeal Court judges. The only voices they ever hear are their own.