With all three political parties claiming victory in the press regulation deal, it can be difficult to know what exactly is going on. The agreement focuses on a royal charter, which will see the creation of an independent press regulator.
David Cameron and Ed Miliband seem at odds over whether what has been agreed will be underpinned by statute. Cameron insists there is no press law but Miliband claims that the statutory underpinning will stop politicians meddling in the future.
The confusion may have arisen out of a clause in the regulatory reform bill which will state royal charters can only be amended as stated in their own terms – in this case a two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament. This should stop any one party being able to change the charter in the future; however, it is seen by some as the base of a press law which gives politicians the ultimate power over the industry.
Further details about the deal are still to emerge but it is likely that the independent body will have the power to ‘direct’ apologies from newspapers which is legally seen as a stronger word than ‘require’. The Guardian reports that the press will write their own code, which it says is not an issue as it is enforcement which has caused issues in the past.
Today’s story is about whether the independent body will be backed by law. What the body will actually do seems to be neither here nor there and the press reports are more concerned with how much power it has. While it can be argued that politicians do have power over the industry, what this means in real terms is very little. The new body will probably be better able to enforce the decisions in line with the old code.
What does this mean for PRs?
Probably very little. A more effective press regulator will be created that will have more power to deal with complaints. Though it probably won’t be backed by law, it can direct apologies to newspapers and PRs will therefore have more power to change what has been incorrectly published about their clients.
It is very likely that the whole process will be retrospective and only applicable after publication. This is important because it should not change the way the industry produces stories; editors will just be more wary about dubious sources and practises. Also, the actions which acted as a catalyst for the Leveson Inquiry (phone hacking, harassment), are still illegal. As they always have been.