Privy Council must not be above the law

By Daily Mail Comment

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The charter is not the system of 'voluntary independent self-regulation' that Lord Justice Leveson proposed

The charter is not the system of 'voluntary independent self-regulation' that Lord Justice Leveson proposed

On Wednesday, barring an unforeseen development, the here-today-gone-tomorrow politicians who make up that secretive, medieval institution the Privy Council intend to rubber-stamp a Royal Charter that could bring to an end three centuries of Press freedom in this country.

The first thing to be stressed is this charter is unequivocally not the system of 'voluntary independent self-regulation' that Lord Justice Leveson proposed on page 1,758 of his report on Press standards.

Rather, it is a charter written by politicians (over pizza at 2am, in a grubby stitch-up with the anti-Press lobby group Hacked Off), imposed by politicians and under the ultimate control of politicians. It was not even properly debated by Westminster.

In a devastating letter, peers today say the charter has 'bypassed' Parliament in a way that is 'inconsistent with our democratic traditions'.

But, chillingly, any newspaper that does not sign up to the proposed regime will face punitive legal costs and damages in any future libel actions – making a mockery of both justice and the term 'voluntary'.

The politicians claim the charter will protect the Press, though the ineluctable fact is Parliament could change it for the worst at any time in the future.

Journalists would live in constant knowledge that if they angered MPs – by exposing another expenses scandal, for example – politicians who already scorn the media could take revenge by making the charter even more draconian.

 

Indeed, in an impassioned letter to the Queen this week, seven of the world's leading press freedom organisations said the proposed 'repressive statutory controls' would be 'seized on' by tyrants from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe to justify crushing free speech in their own countries.

Under the new system, the politicians will have virtual control over the recognition panel that will judge if the charter is being implemented properly.

Yet Leveson himself rejected the idea of the Government or Parliament setting up such a body, saying it would 'likely be perceived by the industry, and possibly the public, as government interference in the independence of the Press'.

The bitter irony, of course, is that the newspaper industry's own new system of self-regulation contains all the key recommendations of the Leveson report, plus the power to impose fines of up to £1million for systematic wrongdoing.

This regulatory system will be ready to begin work early next year and – unlike the politicians' charter – has almost universal support among local and national newspapers and magazines.

Yet a group of ministers sitting in secret on the Privy Council rejected the Press's own Royal Charter earlier this month.

The newspaper industry is seeking judicial review of this decision, but has been told by the Treasury Solicitor that the Privy Council, acting under Royal Prerogative, cannot be subject to legal challenge.

In the year 2013, in an advanced egalitarian democracy, such a position is, frankly, preposterous.

Indeed it's truly frightening that, in the modern age, politicians hiding behind a power that is the last vestige of a medieval monarchical system consider themselves above the law of the land.

It's also cynical of them to subject the Queen to the acute embarrassment of having to sign a charter that is opposed by most of the media and is a deeply unedifying constitutional mess.

Yes, a small group of newspapers have sometimes behaved abominably and – under existing laws – they are being ferociously punished.

But the Press also fights corruption, holds the politicians to account and gives a voice to the disenfranchised.

The Privy Council has a choice on Wednesday: it can explore an alternative to the politicians' unwanted charter – or it can bring shame on a country fiercely proud of being the home of freedom of expression.

The comments below have been moderated in advance.

I guess the Mails subservient position to the government over the Snowden leaks didn't bear any fruit. What on earth did you expect guys, a government that promotes honesty and fair play ?

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This is Cleggie and Call me Dismal at their best. It is the do as we say or we will crucify you. It is more Hitler than Gandhi in its implementation. It shows that the westminster factions have no connection with the basic honesty and steadfastness of the Great British Public. It is something to do with the factions seeing themselves as celebrities, and not public servants, vote UKIP while there is still a chance of regaining the freedom to speak out against corruption and propaganda as imposed by the deadbeats at Westminster. For the people, By the people and Of the people UKIP still leads the way.

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What is a complete and utter disgrace is the fact that our scumbag politicians have dreamt up this stupid farce and have managed to involve Her Majesty in it. They should not be presenting ANY charter about press regulation without there is proper agreement from all the parties involved, and that does not mean just the likes of Hugh Grant & co.

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The signing of a Royal Charter that is not acceptable to the Press can only be regarded as a dress rehearsal for full-blown statutory regulation. It would be foolish to think otherwise.

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I would like to see the press just not using names and blurring faces in photographs in the news reports for a few months.

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Milliband requires state control of the press in order to conceal his links with unions and hide dishonesty and incompetence by his fellow marxists. He probably promised his farther that he would work hard to turn Britain into a communist country one day.

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Tom Sharpe, Manchester. Newspapers have always had their AGENDA and most sensible people realise that. It is better to have information where we can judge for ourselves whether or not it is true and relevant than to have all information censored. As the politicians keep telling us - "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear."

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This level of draconian press regulation hasn't been seen in Europe since 1945, and just as the German people were castigated for not standing up more forcefully to THAT fascist regime, so would we deserve the same opprobrium were this not to be opposed by all means necessary here!

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Complaining about a story in a newspaper and seeking an apology or financial redress is not undemocratic. The PCC was pretty much run by The Press itself and The Legal System failed ordinary people, not to mention The Police, who were to afraid to investigate alleged crimes committed by newspapers. We know the New Charter will not prevent a newspaper printing what it likes but The DM and others are saying that newspapers will be too afraid to print certain stories because they might get successfully sued for large amounts of money. How about the Stephen Lawrence case? The DM called certain young men murderers and invited these men to "Sue us" in banner headlines. The men, did not take up The DM's invitation. The DM believed they would not be sued for 2 reasons, one The DM believed they were guilty and would not dare and secondly they did not have the money or access to any legal resources, except of course the good old Press Complaints Commission.

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I now hate this country

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