Two potential press regulators, two big problems, and less than two weeks to go

Barring an unlikely detente, the royal charter body and newspapers’ own regulator now face an awkward simultaneous scramble for board members and money

Eleven days to deadline, but no one is holding their breath. Unless there’s a sudden flurry of backstairs negotiation, most – if not all – of the press won’t sign up for the parliamentary version of the royal charter that Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Miliband have left on the table. Instead, papers will found their own independent press standards organisation (Ipso) instead. Welcome, suddenly, to a practical world beyond easy rhetoric.

Parliament’s own approved regulator, if proceeded with, will need a fine array of imposing names to people its recognition and appointments committees, not to mention the board of the regulator itself. And Ipso will require exactly the same quality membership. Joe Public isn’t going to be over-impressed by a random selection of available Joe Soaps.

More, every paper and magazine that doesn’t sign up for either version automatically raises the cost for those who do. The fewer members a body has, the more those who do join up have to pay. And remember the Treasury is being prodded to get things moving by scattering seed corn over initial recognition procedures. George Osborne has a voice in what happens, too.

In short, there are money problems here; and, more pressingly, great people problems in persuading both the right calibre of regulator to stake his or her reputation on participation, plus finding the necessary volume of publishers to sign long-term rolling contracts. We have two prospective regulators, one chartered, one not, but a profusion of common difficulties – unless a quite singular certainty comes along.

■ It’s cheering to be told that 150,000 subscribers now stump up for the Times and Sunday Times behind their paywall. It’s impressive to hear that online accounts for 25% of Times paid-for sales. It might be more convincing still if there were sums of money attached to such figures so we could compare like with like and cash with cash. What are the actual sums as well as percentages? How much digital advertising does the Thunderer take when compared against, say, the Telegraph, with its 60 million unique browsers and 299,000 print edition subscribers?

There is progress here. News UK’s top titles may be building a wall that pays dividends. But transparency – for all Fleet Street in these matters – is the father and mother of final persuasion. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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