From Prof Stuart Allan, Prof Steven Barnett and others.
Sir, Thursday’s announcement of an “alternative” Royal Charter by a group of powerful news organisations (excluding the Financial Times, The Guardian and The Independent) is a deliberate attempt to undermine the democratic will of parliament. These companies are proposing a new system to replace the framework already agreed in a historic cross-party consensus. Their proposals purport to be both “independent” and compliant with the recommendations of Lord Justice Leveson. In fact, they are neither.
In several critical respects, the press version dilutes or severely weakens the Leveson recommendations. Arbitration becomes optional rather than an integral part of the system. Editors remain in control of the code of practice, with no discretion for the board of the self-regulator to intervene if it is too weak. The board will no longer have the power to “direct” apologies and corrections but only to “require a remedy”. Crucially, the press will control the funding of the new system and former editors will now be allowed to sit on the Recognition Panel which was explicitly designed to be free of press influence. Ironically, the scope for political influence has been increased by removing a clause that would prevent appointments of serving peers.
These newspapers would not countenance such brazen defiance of parliament’s will in any other institution or organisation found guilty of systematic breaches of their own industry’s code of conduct. And yet these same newspapers which self-righteously call for transparency and accountability in others see no irony in rejecting it for themselves.
Leveson was absolutely clear that independent voluntary self-regulation meant independent of the press as well as independent of political interference. Parliament has agreed a charter which precisely implements that delicate balance and ensures that politicians cannot – despite the disingenuous scaremongering of some newspaper editorials – influence editorial content in any way. After decades of inaction and seven public inquiries, parliament has finally put the public interest before the interests of powerful press proprietors, and has been supported by such life-long free speech campaigners as Sir Harry Evans and Sir Tom Stoppard.
MPs should be applauded for their courage, and newspapers – as they are so quick to advise others – should accept the will of parliament.
Stuart Allan, Professor of Journalism, University of Bournemouth
Steven Barnett, Professor of Communications, University of Westminster
John Corner, Visiting Professor in Communications Studies, University of Leeds
James Curran, Professor of Communications, Goldsmiths, University of London
Chris Frost, Professor of Journalism, Liverpool John Moores University
Ivor Gaber, Research Professor in Media and Politics, University of Bedfordshire
Ian Hargreaves, Professor of Digital Economy, Cardiff University
Justin Lewis, Professor of Communications, Cardiff University
Joni Lovenduski, Professor of Politics, Birkbeck, University of London
Maire Messenger Davies, Professor of Media Studies, University of Ulster
Julian Petley, Professor of Screen Media, Brunel University
Greg Philo, Professor of Communications, University of Glasgow
Jean Seaton, Professor of Media History, University of Westminster
Frank Webster, Professor of Sociology, City University
Lorna Woods, Professor of Law, City University
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