The Privy Council has initiated a consultation on a Royal Charter for the establishment of a recognition body for press self-regulation. This consultation, which ends on 24 May, is not however on the version agreed to by the political party leaders and accepted by Parliament on 18 of March. Instead it is the version proposed by a group of publishers on 25 April.
This caused some confusion in the House of Lords yesterday and Baronness Jones of Whitchurch posed the question. “Why is not the Privy Council also considering the one put forward on an all-party basis?” The answer she received was that maybe the Privy Council can only consider one petition at a time for the same area, but did the cross-party one actually go to the Privy Council?
Could it be that after all the back patting and face saving over the political deal made to implement Leveson’s recommendations on 18 March no one actually petitioned the Privy Council?
According to that agreement the Commissioner of Public Appointment was to start off the process of forming a Recognition Panel by appointing an Appointments Committee, but at what point was the Charter supposed to go to the Privy Council? Royal Charters are usually applied for by already existing institutions.
The PressBoF, the Press Standards Board of Finance, petitioned the Privy Council with its version of the charter on 30 April. The PressBoF’s membership currently includes some of the Leveson Inquiry’s harshest critics. However, given that the organisation was established by newspaper publishers and has been raising the levy that funds the PCC, PressBoF can certainly claim meet the Privy Council’s criteria for applicants:
(a) the institution concerned should comprise members of a unique profession, and should have as members most of the eligible field for membership, without significant overlap with other bodies;
(b) corporate members of the institution should be qualified to at least first degree level in a relevant discipline;
(c) the institution should be financially sound and able to demonstrate a track record of achievement over a number of years; (. . .)
Now in the hands of the Privy Council is a version of a Royal Charter that has been deemed by some to be the furthest from Leveson’s recommendations. Since that version was submitted a change was agreed that would drop the qualified majority on the appointments to the new regulator’s board, which would have essentially given publishers a veto. The statement announcing this agreed change included the Independent and the Guardian, both of which had previously opposed the version of the charter proposed by others in the industry.
If Hacked Off, the NUJ and others that find fault with PressBoF’s version of a Royal Charter respond to the consultation, is there a chance the Privy Council will reject the application? If the small changes suggested really bring the rest of the industry on board it might be hard to find reason to do so.
This is fascinating. Below are the “Incorporation” sections from each of the charters. It seems that the Press’ Charter envisions an organization that has a membership from the outset – namely, the PressBof are the seated leaders and members of the body, at least temporarily.
But the Cross-party Charter has no initial membership or history. It seems now that this is a key difference. Under the Privy Council rules, to be accorded Chartered status the Privy Council examines the history, membership, and financial condition of the body. Back when the BBC applied for Chartered status, those features were probably easy to show. Yet the Cross-party Charter has no history, and only a vague sense of prospective membership and funding.
In this bitter effort to avoid “statutory regulation”, I wonder if we will find that this policy process merely resulted in an unworkable charter scheme…..with some statutory regulation.
1.1. There shall be a body corporate known as the Recognition Panel.
1.2. There shall be a Board of the Recognition Panel which shall be responsible for the conduct and management of the Recognition Panel’s business and affairs, in
accordance with the further terms of this Charter.
1.3. The members of the Board of the Recognition Panel shall be the only Members of
the body corporate, but membership of the body corporate shall not enable any
individual to act otherwise than through the Board to which he belongs.
The Press’ Charter:
1.1 There shall be a body corporate known as the Recognition Panel.
1.2 The members of the Former Pressbof shall be the first Members of the Recognition Panel. They shall resign forthwith upon the appointment of the Board of the Recognition Panel in accordance with Article 5 and paragraph 1 of Schedule 1.
1.3 Thenceforth, the members from time to time of the Board of the Recognition Panel
shall be the only Members of the body corporate, but membership of the body
corporate shall not enable any individual to act otherwise than through the Board to
which he belongs.
1.4 The Board of the Recognition Panel shall be responsible for the conduct and
management of the Recognition Panel’s business and affairs, in accordance with the
further terms of this Charter.