The Royal Charter is a legal document that encourages regulation in the press. This has been brought on by the recent Leveson Enquiry, where newspapers such as the News of the World has been accused and found guilty of hacking the phones of certain celebrities, and people such as the parents of missing child Madeline McCann. Through their phone hacking scandal, newspapers were publishing their findings illegally, as the press was not regulated and anything could be published. The Royal Charter has recently been brought in with the idea of a self regulated press, which means the end of what we know as a “Free Press”.
A Free Press is a press that can publish anything they want, with certain legalities such as those similar to stories where they are legally contracted to courts or scandals involving young children, and cannot publish certain information about the victim(s) of the stories. A Free Press would be threatened by the Royal Charter because the Charter has the ability to bring in any form of regulation, which starts the argument that the press wouldn’t exactly be “free” to write what they want, therefore making some stories impossible to publish.
The Free Press would be threatened by the Royal Charter because recently the Royal Charter has brought in a new idea that the press can self regulate itself. This means that newspapers can choose one person, an editor possibly, to read all the stories about to be published and can say “yes that is regulated enough to be published”, or “no, this cannot be published because of this reason”. There are arguments for and against this new regulation written by the Royal Charter. A famous argument for press regulation was written by Steve Coogan, actor and supporter of group Hacked Off, who are fighting to regulate press. In his argument for the Royal Charter, Coogan wrote a letter to David Mitchell of the Guardian, arguing against Mitchell’s view of the press being threatened by press regulation. This is what Coogan wrote: “Let me give you an example of what the rubbish part of the press don’t like about the very modest Royal Charter: equal prominence of apologies. Let’s just suppose you read a headline, something really awful about you like, “David Mitchell likes to have sex with animals… small ones… a lot.” (I know it’s a bit annoying but multiply your irritation by a thousand and you may get a taste of what it was like to be Bristol landlord Chris Jefferies, who was accused – without a shred of evidence – of murdering Joanna Yeates.) Now let’s say that you can demonstrate quite swiftly that the headline is untrue through personal testimonies (I would vouch for you) and CCTV footage. How would you feel if, after the paper did a mea culpa, they printed the correction/apology in a one-inch column on page 16? Happy? Or really, really happy? OK, now imagine you’ve been accused of pickpocketing the dead on a football field after a disaster. Just to sell more newspapers. Not so funny now is it?”
In his argument, Coogan is explaining that we need press regulation because otherwise anyone could write anything about anyone, as he uses the example that someone could write that David Mitchell likes to have sex with animals. Coogan also uses the emotional side to back up his argument, asking D avid Mitchell how he would feel if he were a victim in this. This last sentence appeals to Coogan’s own time as a victim of phone hacking, so he is using personal experiences to back up his argument.
Other arguments against press regulation include Bob Satchwell of the Society of Editors, who says: “This is disappointing and it is a pity the Queen has been brought into controversy. Royal charters are usually granted to those who ask for one not forced on an industry that does not want it. The press has moved to create a robust new regulator, taking on board Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations including £1million fines, orders to make corrections, investigative powers and an independent board with no serving editors in the regulatory system. Those who seem to want to neuter the press forget there are 20 national papers, 1,100 regional and local papers and hundreds of magazines who have not done any wrong.” Mr Satchwell’s argument includes the fact that a press regulation would affect newspapers who are currently not doing anything wrong, and they would lose out on freedom because of someone else.
Other arguments for press freedom include the idea that if a press is regulated, then everyone will have to write the same thing, and not put their own angles on it because there will only be certain things they can write. This idea means that the public will become fed up of reading the same thing over and over again. Newspapers such as the Guardian write things in their own opinions sometimes, depending on the story, and if a press is regulated then they will not be able to write what they want, because they may write something that is against the regulation, as Steve Coogan mentioned, David Mitchell sometimes puts a funny spin on things, and these things may have to disappear if press regulation comes into action. However, to counteract this, the argument for press regulation explains that if a press is regulated, people will not have to worry about rubbish being written about them and published to the whole nation, or the whole world. This would stop people becoming the victim of press publication, and phone hacking.
One final argument against the press regulation is that some local newspapers use the word “free” in their newspaper titles, and it encourages people to buy them because they know that the newspaper is free to write whatever they want about their local area. For example, the Bridlington Free Press writes about things that happen all over the Bridlington area, from murders to drug raids, or even people being married or people dying. Residents in the area like these “free” papers because they tell people the truth about what is going on. Whereas, if the press was regulated, they would lose “free” and would become the Bridlington Press, which some people may have trust issues about because they know it is regulated and would worry about what people can and cannot read about. Some stories such as murders or drug raids may be cut out if they were not written about properly, and therefore residents of the local area would not know everything that they would like to know about what is going on in their area.
In conclusion, there are arguments for and against the free press and press regulation. The Royal Charter threatens the Free Press mainly by regulating what can be written and published in a newspaper, and this has been brought on by the Leveson Enquiry and the phone hacking scandals. There has been an uproar whether or whether not press regulation is the right or wrong thing, because either press regulation means the end of “free” news papers such as the Bridlington Free Press, or because it is a way to stop horrible scandals such as the phone hacking and public humiliation for many people involved, such as the parents of Madeline McCann and actor Steve Coogan.
Steve Coogan, argument for Hacked Off: Coogan, S. (2013). Steve Coogan: David Mitchell, press freedom is not being threatened. Available: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/oct/27/leveson-press-regulation-steve-coogan-david-mitchell. Last accessed 9th Jan 2014.
Bob Satchwell, argument: Little, A, and Brown, M. (2013). Royal Charter causes outrage as freedom of press is cast aside after 300 years. Available: http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/440257/Royal-Charter-causes-outrage-as-freedom-of-press-is-cast-aside-after-300-years. Last accessed 9th Jan 2014.