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UK: Decision due on press charter

(London) Newspapers and magazines learn today whether they can carry on fighting a legal battle over the new Royal Charter intended to govern the regulation of the press.

Acting on the advice of the Government, the Privy Council granted the charter last October in a form favoured by the three main political parties.

But industry body Pressbof has argued in the Court of Appeal that a decision to reject a rival charter it was promoting was unfair and unlawful.

Richard Gordon QC said Pressbof was not told the criteria and target it had to meet for its charter to win approval.

He said the target “was deliberately camouflaged” and criteria from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) was never made available until it was too late.

Mr Gordon said Pressbof had been “expressly denied sight of the DCMS criteria. We have never seen them despite a promise we would see them”.

Lord Justice Maurice Kay, vice-president of the appeal court, will rule today on whether Pressbof should have permission to launch a full legal challenge to the rejection of its alternative charter, using fresh evidence.

Divisional Court judges have so far blocked the move and ruled the Pressbof case “unarguable”.

Mr Gordon said the fundamental reason for the Divisional Court refusing Pressbof permission to seek judicial review was that Pressbof knew the criteria it had to meet when applying for a Royal Charter.

Mr Gordon said that was incorrect and reflected “an impressionistic reading of the facts and a misunderstanding of the relevant context”.

He said the Pressbof charter was lodged to give effect to the spirit of Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations following his public inquiry into the British press in the wake of the News International phone hacking scandal and was designed to provide “a scrupulously fair process”.

Separate judicial review proceedings launched by Pressbof which directly challenge the legality of the cross-party charter itself are on hold pending Lord Justice Kay’s decision.

The Government has insisted the cross-party charter offers the press the best alternative to a system of full statutory regulation.

Some publications have made it clear they will simply refuse to sign up to a system underpinned by a politicians’ charter.

Earlier this week, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso), the new press regulatory body backed by almost all national newspapers to succeed the criticised Press Complaints Commission (PCC), named Sir Alan Moses – an appeal court judge – as its first chairman.

Press reform campaign group Hacked Off, which supports the cross-party charter plan, said Sir Alan’s appointment “changes nothing” and described Ipso as a “dreadful insult” to victims of press intrusion.

Professor Brian Cathcart, director of Hacked Off, said: “The appointment of Sir Alan Moses as chair of Ipso changes nothing when the structure and operation of this ‘Son of PCC’ remain so fatally flawed.”

But Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, welcomed the new chairman and expressed his full support for Ipso and Sir Alan.

Mr Satchwell said: “The way (Sir Alan) handled the difficult issues in the Soham murder trial showed that he knows how to balance the sometimes competing interests of justice, victims and the media as the conduit to the public.

“He was appointed by an open and independent process and his CV shows that neither the public nor the press need have concerns about his reputation for fearless independence and integrity.”



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