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The media barons’ last pitiful throw

They really have got a nerve. After unanimous agreement of all parties in Parliament for a Royal Charter to ensure proper press standards (which among the UK tabloids at present are arguably the worst in Europe), they deign to produce an alternative without a shred of remorse or apology so that they can carry on exactly as before.

The arrogance of the Murdochs, Dacres, Barclays Brothers, and Desmonds is really beneath contempt. No other industry in the country, not least if universally despised for stooping to such tactics as were exposed over Millie Dowler and condemned out of their own mouth by their repeated lying and deceit over illegal phone-hacking on an industrial scale,would seek to defy Parliament and the public in this way. They continue to prate the mantra about freedom of the press without an inkling of understanding or humility that freedom in a democracy is conjoiled with responsibility.

It’s not as though the press moguls’ so-called ‘alternative’ makes any concessions at all in moving towards a new settlement which commands the overwhelming support of the vast majority of the British public. Their ‘alternative’ is just a rehash of their earlier proposals which have been so convincingly rejected.

It reinstates the right of the newspaper industry to sit on an appointments committee to veto members of the regulator board – like the burglar being allowed to select his own judge and jury. It would also reintroduce the right of former newspaper editors and political peers to sit on the regulator board.

It leaves out the government proposal that the charter could be dissolved only with a two-thirds majority vote of both Houses of Parliament. It removes the right of the regulator to direct, as opposed to require, apologies so that the latter could still, as now, be hidden away on p.37 in words still broadly acceptable to the offending newspaper. And plans for an arbitration process for civil legal claims are watered down.

The real point about the parliamentary Royal Charter is not its presumptuousness, it’s rather its modesty. There are still far more important reforms that need to be made if we are to have a genuinely free and fair press. There should be a Right of Reply as already exists in many other countries.

No persons or organisations should be permitted to own more than one daily and one Sunday newspaper. The prohibition on cross-ownership between the print and broadcasting media, which originally existed till Thatcher removed it to allow her friend Rupert Murdoch to own both Sky and 4 newspapers, should be reinstituted. No newspaper should be owned by a non-British citizen, and a new format of ownership should be introduced which was neither control by the State nor control by private tycoons, but rather in the form of a trust which would guarantee independence and impartiality.

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