Statutory underpinning – an idea stillborn

With today’s single-digit salute from Britain’s newspaper industry to the Labour-Liberal-Hacked-Off demand for press regulation by statute, and the shrugging of shoulders in Whitehall in response to the alternative Royal Charter, I guess that’s it for Leveson. Apart, that is, from the small matter of an exemplary damages threat that continues to hang over those publications which choose not to sign up to a new regulator.

This is a partial victory for the free press, but we cannot afford to be complacent, let alone see the alternative charter as a triumph of free speech and free association over power-grabbing politicians and morally compromised celebrities, whose Leveson-inspired draft Royal Charter has not gone out for consultation, and is therefore in breach of Privy Council rules. The alternative Royal Charter is a creature of publishers and press barons, and their interests rarely coincide with those of either journalists or media consumers.

Like it or not, the kind of press regulation proposed by Leveson is common in a number of liberal democracies. Going by the frequency with which the subject of press regulation comes up in public discussion in countries that already have a state-approved regulator, we can be sure that Hacked Off and its parliamentary allies will not let it lie.