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Press reform proposals rejected
A decision on newspaper industry proposals for a new system of press regulation is set to be announced, according to sources
Newspaper industry proposals for a royal charter to establish a new system of self-regulation have been rejected, Culture Secretary Maria Miller told the House of Commons today.
Mrs Miller said that the industry plans did not comply with some of the "fundamental principles" of the Leveson Report on press regulation, including on independence and access to arbitration.
The cross-party proposals for a charter agreed by Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour and backed by Parliament will now be put forward for approval at a specially-convened meeting of the Privy Council on October 30.
Mrs Miller said that all three parties will work together in the next few days to agree a number of "substantive" changes to the text agreed in March and produce a final draft of the cross-party charter.
The industry plan, published in April, was considered by a sub-committee of the Privy Council yesterday.
Mrs Miller told MPs that, in considering the industry proposals, the committee identified issues where the cross-party Charter could be improved, in the areas of access to arbitration and the editors' code of conduct.
But she told MPs: "The Committee of the Privy Council is unable to recommend the press's proposal for a Royal Charter be granted.
"Whilst there are areas where it is acceptable, it is unable to comply with some fundamental Leveson principles and Government policy, such as independence and access to arbitration.
"In the light of this, we will be taking forward the cross-party Charter which was debated in this House."
The Charter will allow for the creation of an independent "recognition panel" to oversee the work of a new self-regulatory body to replace the Press Complaints Commission. While the new regulator will undertake the task of ensuring that complaints about press activities are properly dealt with, the panel will have the job of verifying that it is doing so effectively and independently.
Following a lengthy inquiry into press conduct sparked by allegations of phone-hacking, Sir Brian Leveson's report last November recommended that an independent regulator should have the power to impose fines of up to £1 million and direct the positioning of apologies and corrections.
Leveson recommended a statutory body to oversee the new self-regulation system, but this was opposed by many in the industry, who believed it would give politicians too much power over newspapers. A Royal Charter was proposed by Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin as a compromise solution which would prevent politicians from interfering in the operation of the new panel.
The plan now being put forward for Privy Council approval was agreed in a late-night Whitehall meeting in March between representatives of Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour, at which pressure group Hacked Off was present.
Mrs Miller told MPs: "We have an opportunity to take a final look at our Charter. An opportunity to bring all parties together and ensure that the final Charter is both workable and effective.
"We have a responsibility to make sure that what we do here will be effective and stand the test of time, so we need to make it the best we can.
"We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get this right. We all want it to be the best we can do to give individuals access to redress whilst safeguarding this country's free press which forms such a vital part of our democracy."
Campaign group Hacked Off welcomed the "long overdue" rejection of the industry's charter and called on newspapers to accept the cross-party deal.
The group's director Brian Cathcart said it was "regrettable" that further changes would be made to the cross-party charter and added that he would be watching closely to ensure there was no "dilution" of the Leveson recommendations.
He added: "The moment has come to ask the press, the big companies who run the national newspapers, to think again about their position. This is the moment when they should do what the public wants them to do, that their readers want them to do, what (Sir Brian) Leveson suggests they should to do, what every party in Parliament has suggested they should do.
"This is a solution to a long-standing problem affecting many, many ordinary people in this country which has been agreed by everybody else. It is time now they stepped up and accepted what is a workable, fair solution that poses no threat whatsoever to freedom of expression in this country."
Former Crimewatch presenter Jacqui Hames, who was a phone hacking victim, said: "This is about changing the culture, it's not just about breaking the law, it's about a culture of harassment and bullying by powerful and influential institutions who haven't been held to account properly.
"This Royal Charter will protect the public for the future. After 70 years and seven previous inquiries which have gone nowhere, I do hope that finally we get something that serves the public as well as the press barons."