So Britain will get a new press regulator, established by Royal Charter, but underpinned by a law that will make it difficult to change the way the new body operates. A Royal Charter is a declaration by the monarch granting powers and privileges to an entity. Think the BBC, the Bank of England, or the East India Company.
Regulating newspapers by charter was part of the strange compromise struck among the Tories, Liberal Democrats and Labour in the wee hours Monday. The Lib Dems and Labour want a new press regulator established through legislation, with all the muscle that implies. Prime Minister David Cameron opposed a statutory regulator but faced possible defeat in Parliament on this point. Angst is still high in Westminster over the need to “do something” about a press corps supposedly run amok in the phone-hacking scandals.
Some are deriding a Royal Charter as a “medieval” institution. Since you have to go back to the 17th century to find a time when the Crown licensed newspaper publishers, the throwback analogy seems apt.
This new press regulator is anachronistic in other ways too. Politicians are already arguing over the extent to which Internet blogs would fall under its sway, though membership is supposed to be voluntary. Some of Britain’s most prominent bloggers want no part of it. Paul Staines, who blogs under the nom de plume Guido Fawkes, hosts his blog offshore. Even his mobile phone is offshore.