Nick Jones

Once the Queen had placed her seal of approval on the politically-approved version of the royal charter for press regulation there must have been a collective sigh of relief among the three party leaders.

Almost by a whisker they had ensured that radio and television reports of the opening of the prosecution’s case in the phone hacking trial would be balanced by the news that the politicians had delivered on their promise to respond to the Leveson Inquiry.

But the Privy Council’s rendezvous with Queen at Buckingham Palace was nothing more than an empty gesture dressed up in the guise of some pretty clumsy news management.

When it came to influencing the headlines – and that is what it was all about – the message from the leadership of the three main parties was pretty clear: “We’ve proved we can stand up to the press on behalf of the public.  We’ve done our bit.”

Yet in reality the political leaders know they are simply treading water. The ball remains very firmly in the hands of newspaper and magazine proprietors who will carry on regardless in establishing their Leveson-style regulator, the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

 

My sense is that the party leaders will be happy to take a back seat as events unfold at the Old Bailey and the trial of Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson provides the public with a running commentary and constant reminder of the worst excesses of tabloid abuses.

While they will be ready, if challenged, to go through the motions of reminding the newspaper and magazine industry that there is cross-party unity over the need for IPSO to get official recognition as required under the royal charter – and then be subjected to periodic review by Parliament – there will be rush to raise the stakes.

The closer we get to the general election in 2015, the less stomach the political parties will have for a renewed offensive against the press proprietors and the conclusion of the Brooks-Coulson trial and other follow-on prosecutions will allow the politicians to keep their heads down.

In all probability IPSO will let the party leaders off the hook.  If a much toughened system of self regulation is up and running by early next year – well before the conclusion of the trial at the Old Bailey – then the industry has every chance to demonstrate that newspapers and magazines have put their own house in order.

If IPSO delivers on its manifesto, if upfront corrections do start appearing in a prominent position and if there are meaningful sanctions on systematic wrongdoing, the politicians will be sorely tempted to back off.

Like the party leaders campaigners against press abuses will probably have no alternative but to play it long. 

 

To all intents and purpose self regulation has been given yet another second chance and perhaps the focus now should be seeing on whether IPSO is a credible and effective replacement for the Press Complaints Commission.