29 October 2013
Last updated at 21:43 ET
The press wants a judicial review of a Privy Council decision to reject its proposed charter
Newspaper and magazine publishers are seeking a last-minute injunction to stop the proposed royal charter on press regulation being approved later.
They will argue at the High Court that the Privy Council failed to consult the industry properly or to consider its alternative charter properly.
They fear the cross-party charter amounts to the end of the free press in the UK – a claim its supporters deny.
The row follows the phone-hacking affair and subsequent Leveson Inquiry.
BBC media correspondent David Sillito said the charter proposed by the three main political parties was on the verge of approval after “months of wrangling”.
The Press Standards Board of Finance (Pressbof), which raises money from the newspaper industry to fund the current regulator the Press Complaints Commission, said that process was unfair and wants a judicial review.
At the High Court, Pressbof will ask two senior judges for permission to seek a judicial review of the Privy Council’s decision to reject the press-backed royal charter.
Pressbof claims the application was not dealt with fairly, that the government and Privy Council failed to consult with the press and that the procedures used were “irrational”.
‘Proper and fair’
Lord Black of Brentwood, chairman of Pressbof, said the decision to go to court had been made because of the “enormous ramifications for free speech” of the case.
Last week a newspaper industry source told the BBC he hoped the court action would put the politicians’ plan on hold, but the government said it would push ahead.
Lawyers for Culture Secretary Maria Miller will oppose the legal challenge.
A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said the industry royal charter had been considered in “an entirely proper and fair way” and Mrs Miller had secured significant changes to the cross-party charter to address press concerns.
“The government is working to bring in a system of independent press self-regulation that will protect press freedom while offering real redress when mistakes are made,” the spokesman said.
The rival royal charters are similar in some respects, with both proposing a “recognition panel” to oversee a press self-regulation committee with powers to impose fines of up to £1m on newspapers for wrongdoing.
But while the press charter would require industry-wide approval for any amendments, the politicians’ version could be changed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament – and some in the media claim this could let governments encroach on press freedom.
Various forms of press regulation have been proposed following the Leveson Inquiry in the culture, practice and ethics of the press, set up in the wake of revelations about phone hacking by journalists.
The Privy Council, whose active members must be government ministers, meets in private to formally advise the Queen to approve “Orders” which have already been agreed by ministers.
Royal charters are granted by the Privy Council to “bodies that work in the public interest” – in this case a proposed press regulator.