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By Peter Hoskin
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So
here it is: the draft
Royal Charter
by which David Cameron hopes to avoid statutory regulation of
the press. It’s rather a dry read, setting out, as it does, the creation of a “Recognition
Panel” to oversee—and, in theory, validate—any regulator that the press might establish themselves. There are sections on the appointments process, on the
annual accounts, on the terms used in the charter, on the … zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

And
yet, as soporific as it is, this Royal Charter has the potential to be a
firework of a document. It is the only firm proposal to emerge from the cross-party
talks so far, and will inform much of what follows. It’s now up to Labour and
the Lib Dems to agree to it, to call for changes, or to reject it wholesale.

Although
I can’t pretend to have a firm grasp on everything contained in the
Charter—particularly after just a single skim-read—it does seem that it could
fall between competing impulses. For those who want to see the Leveson proposals
implemented uncomplicatedly and in full, it probably doesn’t do enough. But for
those who worry about politicians interfering in the press, it could well do
too much.


There
are, for instance, provisions to involve Parliament in the event that the Charter
is amended or wound up. There’s another which allows the Recognition Panel the “power”
to fine media organisations up to £1 million, which raises the question of just
where that power comes from. And then there's the very nature
of Royal Charters, which are steered and implemented by Government.  

The
early response to the document has pointed more towards “this doesn’t do enough”. Hacked Off have already decried it as “a
surrender to press pressure,”
and set out five problems they have with it. And
the Lib Dems have joined them, saying that it “won’t do the job those affected
and Leveson wanted”
.

Much
will now depend on Labour, who seem to be taking a slower,
more circumspect
approach. Some in No.10 hope—even expect—that Ed Miliband
will come round to the idea of a Royal Charter in principle, even if he
disagrees with some of the specifics of this draft. If that happens, it will be
hard for Nick Clegg to stand in the way of one by himself.

5.45pm update: Ah, actually, it seems as though Labour may not be coming round to anything. Harriet Harman has just spoken to BBC News, and said "We think Leveson’s report must be implemented not watered down". If they are genuinely against a Royal Charter, it's difficult to see how this situation can be resolved swiftly and peaceably.

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