The head of the body tasked with authorising new press regulators has accused national newspapers of trying to “undermine” the process by arguing it would lack legitimacy without their support.
David Wolfe QC said national newspapers had used a consultation on how regulators should be recognised under the government’s royal charter to question the viability of the whole system.
He said: “We’ve had broad support for the way we are proposing to go about doing things from people supportive of the charter and Leveson process, and responses from people who don’t like it seeking to undermine it.”
“One of the themes from them is a suggestion you couldn’t have a regulator that wasn’t supported by the traditional national [newspapers].”
The consultation is designed to guide how the Press Recognition Panel, which Wolfe chairs, authorises any new press regulators. It begins taking applications on Thursday, and will publish the results of the consultation.
Most of the national press has signed up rival regulator the Independent Press Standards Organisation, which has said it will not seek recognition under the royal charter. However, the Guardian, Financial Times and Independent are among those that have decided not to join Ipso.
Newspapers that do not sign up to a recognised regulator will be at risk from 3 November of having “exemplary damages” placed on them in libel and other legal challenges and of having to pay both sides’ legal costs.
A rival to Ipso, Impress, has already said it intends to seek recognition, and Wolfe said he expects the organisation to make an application within the next few weeks. The recognition process is set to take between two and three months from application.
Wolfe said there was nothing in the “charter or the criteria” to stop a regulator being set up without the support of the national newspapers. “There’s certainly no industry veto,” he added.
He said that he expected many newspapers would reconsider their opposition to joining a regulator recognised by his panel once they faced the prospect of higher damages and additional costs.