Will UK press regulation charter prevents abuses or damage journalism?

British lawmakers and publishers are divided over how best to regulate the press in light of the phone hacking scandal.

Story highlights

  • Court in Britain denies newspapers' attempt to block royal charter regulating press
  • Charter establishes government-backed plan to regulate UK press
  • Pro-government regulation activist: Plan will give public better protection from press abuse
  • Media commentator for Guardian: Publishers will simply ignore charter

British newspaper publishers have failed in their bid to block a new government-backed royal charter on press regulation, clearing the way for a new system of regulation proposed by UK lawmakers but opposed by news publishing companies.

The royal charter is lawmakers' attempt to implement the recommendations of the 2012 Leveson Inquiry into press ethics, which was set up after outrage over claims of widespread phone hacking and other abuses by elements of the UK press.

Supporters of the charter say it provides the legal framework and sufficient penalties to ensure effective self-regulation by a press which, they believe, has failed to do so in the past.

Detractors say the government should never have a role, however remote, in regulating the press, and that the proposed charter is an attack on journalism and on press freedom.

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At Hacked Off, a campaign group which fought for the changes and was set up in the wake of the phone hacking scandal, a spokesman said: "News publishers now have a great opportunity to join a scheme that will not only give the public better protection from press abuses, but will also uphold freedom of expression, protect investigative journalism and benefit papers financially...

"The time has come for the newspaper companies to listen to all of those voices, including the vast majority of their readers, and to distance themselves from a past marred by bullying, fabrication and intrusion."

But Roy Greenslade, a former editor who is now a media commentator, said in his Guardian column: "It means, now that the Queen has approved it, that we face the existence of a royal charter to set up a system of press regulation that no publisher will sign up for. They will simply ignore its existence."

"Instead, the publishers will create their own system, having already advanced concrete plans for a new regulator, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso)."

In the UK Press Gazette, Tim Crook, a member of the Chartered Institute of Journalists, went further. He said the government's royal charter "prescribes an unwanted, untried, untested, under-researched system of arbitration for media law disputes mostly paid for by the media whether they win or lose, taking place in secret, and leaving those who opt out with the future burden of punitive legal costs for open justice high court litigation."

At the UK Government's Department for Culture, Media and Sport, a spokesperson said: "A Royal Charter will protect freedom of the press whilst offering real redress when mistakes are made. Importantly, it is the best way of resisting full statutory regulation that others have tried to impose. We will continue to work with the Industry, as we always have, and recent changes secured by the Culture Secretary, to arbitration, the standards code and the parliamentary lock will ensure the system is workable."

But Tony Gallagher, editor of the Daily Telegraph, tweeted: "Well done everyone involved in the Royal Charter. Chances of us signing up for state interference: zero."

And Tim Luckhurst, a CNN contributor and University of Kent journalism professor tweeted: "The Royal Charter is bad for journalism, bad for freedom of speech, and - vitally -appalling for the British public."

He added: "Today Britain squandered a precious freedom.I fear that those who welcome press regulation now will regret it profoundly but too late."