Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Pre-Medievalism in the UK

We all know that echoes of the ancient past are heard in all political systems: Danelaw in Britain, Mongol authoritarianism in Russia, Confucianism in China, sharia in Nigeria, Mayan kingships in Mexico, and Persian militarism in Iran.

But, we really have to dig deeply into ancient British history to understand the proposed Royal Charter that would "regulate the press" in the UK.

This might only be a passing comment on the regime, but it's a complicated comment.

Why are we talking about Royal Charters (first used in 1066) and privy councils? Q&A: Press regulation
In July 2011, Prime Minister David Cameron set up the public, judge-led Leveson Inquiry to examine the culture of the press in response to the phone-hacking scandal.
Lord Justice Levesen

It emerged thousands of people had been victims of press intrusion. Many gave evidence to the inquiry - from celebrities such as comic actor Steve Coogan and singer Charlotte Church, to ordinary people hit by tragedy, including Gerry McCann, father of missing girl Madeleine, and the parents of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.

The report produced by Lord Justice Leveson in November 2012 found the press had "wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people". It made a number of recommendations.

Why are we talking about Royal Charters and privy councils?
It's not explicitly mentioned in any of the articles I found, but it seems clear to me that the politicians do not want to be seen as directly involved in infringing on the freedom of the press.

However, the same politicians are intent on limiting the behavior of journalists and publishers. A Royal Charter could create (without legislation) a regulatory body that is separate from the government.

What is a Royal Charter? Royal charter
A Royal Charter
A royal charter is a formal document issued by a monarch … granting a right or power to an individual or a body corporate. They were, and are still, used to establish significant organisations such as cities… or universities. Charters… have perpetual effect [i.e. they do not end]... 

At one time a royal charter was the sole means by which an incorporated body could be formed, but other means (such as the registration process for limited companies) are generally used nowadays instead…

What is the latest proposal? Press regulation: Main parties agree deal
A Royal Charter aimed at underpinning self-regulation of the press has been published by the government.

An agreement by the three main parties followed months of wrangling since Sir Brian Leveson published his report into the ethics and practices of the press.

Culture Secretary Maria Miller said the deal would safeguard the freedom of the press and the future of local papers.

But the industry said the proposals could neither be described as "voluntary or independent"…

The all-party draft's proposals include:
  • A small charge for arbitration - as an alternative to expensive libel courts
  • An opt-out for local and regional newspapers
  • More involvement in decision making for the press and media industry

It comes following a deadlock between the press and politicians over what a new system of self-regulation would look like.

Some in the newspaper industry feared the Westminster proposals would give politicians too much power…

Energy Secretary Ed Davey said… the draft protected press freedom.

"In the past they've promised to regulate themselves and they've not done it," the Lib Dem MP told BBC Radio 4's Any Questions.

"We've created an independent process which, on reflection, I hope the press will back."…

The proposals will be put to the Privy Council - an ancient body which advises the Queen, mostly made up of senior politicians - for final agreement on 30 October.

What's the Privy Council? Privy Council of the United Kingdom
Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council, usually known simply as the Privy Council, is a formal body of advisers to the Sovereign in the United Kingdom. Its membership is mostly made up of senior politicians who are (or have been) members of either the House of Commons or the House of Lords.

Privy Council meeting

The Privy Council… was formerly a powerful institution, but its policy decisions are now exclusively in the hands of one of its committees, the Cabinet [i.e. the government]… The Council also advises the Sovereign on the issuing of Royal Charters, which are used to grant special status to incorporated bodies…

The last words to go James Landale, Deputy political editor at the BBC. 

Beneath the skin of the Leveson law
David Cameron… wants… to have his say. So before any amendments go before MPs, the prime minister… will stand up in the House of Commons and ask the Speaker's permission (yes, that is right, the Speaker's permission) to hold a debate on the issue, using a dusty paragraph from the Standing Orders… to break into the usual flow of parliamentary business. MPs will debate the broad principles but not the detail, and - heaven forbid - they certainly won't vote on it.

All this, note, to determine nothing less important than the balance between ensuring redress for victims of press intrusion and the freedom of the press, a judgement of such sensitivity that it would stretch Solomon…

So there was no white paper. No pre-legislative scrutiny. Just rushed, late night law driven as much by politics as by principle. And nota bene, all this just to regulate the press, not necessarily every darkened recess of the news providing internet. The royal charter says it covers websites that provide news-related material, but there is some confusion as to what that really means. As a distinguished lobby colleague noted, it is like regulating the buggy whip just as the internal combustion engine is coming in.

Thus is law made. Perhaps we should inspect the sausage for horsemeat?

Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed.

The Second Edition of What You Need to Know: Teaching Tools is now available from the publisher

The Fifth Edition of What You Need to Know is also available from the publisher.

Labels: , , , ,


At 10:21 AM, Blogger Ken Wedding said...

Press regulation: The 10 major questions

The Royal Charter on press regulation is expected to be approved later. What are the major questions that have defined the debate?...


Post a Comment

<< Home