UK

Culture secretary hopeful of press regulation deal

  • 17 March 2013
  • From the section UK

Culture Secretary Maria Miller has told the BBC she hopes a cross-party "solution" on press regulation reform is possible within the next 24 hours.

She said there had been "compromise on both sides" to make sure the Leveson report "works in practice".

MPs are due to vote on the terms of a new press watchdog set up by royal charter on Monday. The vote is expected to be close, with David Cameron facing possible defeat.

Previous talks broke down on Thursday.

Earlier on Sunday, Chancellor George Osborne and Labour's Harriet Harman both told the BBC they hoped the parties could reach a deal on the key elements of a new regulator before Monday's vote.

And Harry Potter author JK Rowling - who gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry about press intrusion into her family's privacy - said victims were being "hung out to dry" over the reforms, urging MPs to "have the courage" to protect them.

Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry into press ethics was sparked by revelations of the illegal practice of phone hacking by journalists, which let to the closure of the News of the World in 2011.

The inquiry found newspapers had "wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people" under the existing regime of self-regulation, and called for a new, independent regulator backed by legislation - something that has prompted months of political wrangling.

'Compromise on both sides'

Speaking to the BBC on Sunday evening, Ms Miller said it was important that Labour was "very clear on the problems with their previous recommendations with regards to statutory underpinning" of a new watchdog.

She stressed her party was not prepared to see "statutory regulation of the press" because of the "chilling effect" it would have on journalism.

Ms Miller added: "I hope the discussions we have over the next 24 hours can really make sure we can come together and have a real solution here.

"I think there's been compromise on both sides to make sure we take the Leveson Report, which was never a blueprint for the regulation of the press, and make sure it works in practice.

"One of the important things to do is to have the debate in Parliament."

On Thursday, the prime minister called time on cross-party talks on reforms and instead published plans for a royal charter to establish a tougher press regulator.

In response, deputy prime minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband joined forces to unveil rival plans.

Both the prime minister and the two other parties agree on the concept of a royal charter, a formal document used to establish and lay out the terms of an organisation, for example the Bank of England or the BBC, that cannot be changed without government approval.

However, a major sticking point is whether a new self-regulatory body should be backed by law.

Mr Cameron believes enshrining it in law will harm press freedom but Mr Clegg and Mr Miliband insist on it - they say the rules would lack impact without it.

The other main differences in the rival royal charter, which Mr Clegg launched with Mr Miliband, involve not giving the press a veto over the members of the regulator and preventing it from being watered down or strengthened by future governments.

If it comes to a Commons vote, the prime minister has indicated he will abide by the decision.

'Shameless sell-out'

Meanwhile, his position has been criticised by some victims of press intrusion.

On Sunday, Ms Rowling said: "I believed David Cameron when he said that he would implement Leveson's recommendations 'unless they were bonkers'.

"I did not see how he could back away, with honour, from words so bold and unequivocal.

"Well, he has backed away, and I am one among many who feel they have been hung out to dry."

And Hacked Off, the campaign group representing some press abuse victims that has led calls for full implementation of the Leveson principles, called the royal charter proposal a "shameless sell-out to his friends in the national press".

One of its key figures, the actor Hugh Grant, told the BBC: "It was never ideal that this would be done by royal charter - that seemed to us strange to haul this medieval instrument out of history and use that - but it's not bad.

"The important victims of this - and I do not include people like myself... would be supportive of it.

"That's why it's a really crucial debate for MPs. MPs promised victims to do right by them and they have that chance on Monday."

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites