Press regulation deal struck by parties


David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband all claim victory in Leveson deal

A deal has been struck between the three main political parties on a new press regulation regime in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.

An independent regulator will be set up by royal charter with powers to impose million pound fines on UK publishers and demand upfront apologies from them.

Party leaders told MPs the charter would preserve press freedom and protect victims of press intrusion.

Many of the major newspapers said they needed time to study the details.

Press reform campaign group Hacked Off has welcomed the deal.

It follows Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry into press ethics, which found that journalists had hacked thousands of phones. He called for a new, independent regulator backed by legislation designed to assess whether it is doing its job properly.

'Without delay'

Prime Minister David Cameron said the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour had agreed on a new system of "tough independent self-regulation that will deliver for victims and meet the principles set out in (Leveson's) report".

Christopher Jeffries on a new regulator

He said a new system would ensure:

  • upfront apologies from the press to victims
  • fines of 1% of turnover for publishers, up to £1m
  • a self-regulatory body with independent appointments and funding
  • a robust standards code
  • a free arbitration service for victims
  • a speedy complaints system

The charter defines publishers as newspapers, magazines or websites containing news-related material.

But there was confusion over how the plans would extend to the rest of the internet - with one Downing Street aide telling the BBC it would not cover blogs such as Guido Fawkes' political commentary.

While the charter is intended to cover organisations publishing in the UK, the Scottish government has asked Westminster to clarify the Scottish impact of plans for press regulation, which is a devolved matter.


To anyone outside Westminster this must all sound like not so much a dance, but more an enthusiastic disco on the head of a pin.

The political songs the leaders are playing demonstrate the shimmying under way over the ownership of this deal and the deft moves over the language to describe it.

It all revolves around a horrible phrase you would brace yourself for encountering on the instructions to a piece of flatpack furniture: "statutory underpinning".

It means a reliance on the law; an assault, many newspapers have long argued, on long-held freedoms of the press.

In the Commons, the prime minister was categoric: the royal charter that will oversee the new regulator will not be underpinned in law.

Labour leader Ed Miliband and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg were equally categoric too. It will, they said.

And if second best is the twin of compromise, victims of the press and lobbyists for its freedom appear to be meeting in the middle, but newspapers remain nervous.

Announcing the draft royal charter, Mr Cameron told MPs: "What happened to the Dowlers, to the McCanns, to Christopher Jeffries and to many other innocent people who've never sought the limelight was utterly despicable.

"It is right that we put in place a new system of press regulation to ensure such appalling acts can never happen again. We should do this without any further delay."

Labour leader Ed Miliband said the agreement satisfied the demands of protection for victims and freedom of the press.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he hoped newspaper groups would see the logic of the deal and back it.

The charter will not be passed by MPs, but will need to be approved at the May meeting of the Queen's Privy Council - advisers to the Queen, mostly comprising senior politicians.

Meanwhile, a clause in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, which will mean that the charter cannot be amended without a two-thirds majority in Parliament, was approved in the Lords on Tuesday evening.

And a separate bill, the Crime and Courts Bill, will have amendments ensuring that newspapers who refused to join the new regulatory regime would be potentially liable for exemplary damages if a claim was upheld against them.

Brian Cathcart, Hacked Off: "An artfully crafted piece of legislation"

The three main parties differed over whether this amounted to bringing in a new law.

Mr Cameron said a press law had been avoided - although he conceded the clauses were "two very important but relatively small legislative changes" that needed to be made.

Mr Miliband said there was statute underpinning the charter, "which is actually protecting it from being changed".

BBC political editor Nick Robinson said the press had been informed over the days and months of wrangling, with key players being Telegraph's Lord Black, Associated Newspapers' Peter Wright, the editor of the Times John Witherow and the editor of the FT Lionel Barber.

'Deeply contentious'

In a joint statement, the Mail and Telegraph groups, Northern and Shell, News International, the Newspaper Society and the Professional Publishers Association said the industry had not been represented in Sunday night's talks.

It said early drafts of the charter had contained "several deeply contentious issues" which had not been "resolved with the industry".

"We are not able to give any response on behalf of the industry to this afternoon's proposals until we have had time to study them," the statement concluded.

The Sun and others have previously said they would accept everything recommended by Lord Justice Leveson - except statutory legislation.

Evan Harris of campaign group Hacked Off was at the overnight talks with three other pressure group members. The group later said it believed the deal "can effectively deliver" Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations.

But the idea of a charter was criticised by free speech campaign group Index on Censorship. Chief executive Kirsty Hughes said the decision was a "sad day for press freedom in the UK".

She said: "Index is against the introduction of a royal charter that determines the details of establishing a press regulator in the UK - the involvement of politicians undermines the fundamental principle that the press holds politicians to account."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    After all this talk about none political point scoring here comes Milliband. "This is not about taking or claiming credit, but this is essentially the document that Nick Clegg and I published on Friday". You could not make it up, they just cannot help themselves.

    Cameron's ludicrous assertion that this agreement was actually His idea rather trumps Miliband's factually correct statement

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    7. LWVP

    "The three main parties agreeing on something for the benefit of the country rather than making a shambles of this matter in the name of party-political points scoring? I am aghast!"

    No need to be aghast - if the three main parties agree on something, you can guarantee it is NOT for the benefit of the country.

    Evidence of the last few years should tell you that!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    Can someone tell me which constituency does Hugh Grant represent? And to which political party do the Hacked Off people belong? They seem to be driving the political process. I am not convinced that the press are an bad as these people are telling us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    Time is fast running out when we can justifiably trust politicians to do the right thing.
    It's a time we will regret as a country and can lead to unthinkable things.
    They, the politicians, need to wake up before it's too late.
    We, the electorate, just have to become more demanding of much higher standards.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    So, this new will be replacing the Press Complaints Commisson? I watched bits of the enquiry...and found that instead of getting down to Who, What, Where, When & what will you do to make sure you never do this was all muddied by tittle tattle and finger pointing and time wasting over stupid things like, if the PM knew what LOL meant....pathetic waste of time & mnney.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Here we go again, yet another dodging of responsibility by those we are expected to value and respect. Well, I don`t value or respect them due to their complete inability to behave with one shred of honour. The least we could expect is for the Government to implement his recommendations but all parties are only interested in keeping the press onside, I hope they are proud of their betrayal

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    I think it was Kelvin McKenzie who at the time was editor of the Sun (early 80s)

    Who said on the steps of the high court after being found guilty and fined £60,000

    It was well worth the cost to keep people like that out of Parliament

    Nothing has changed and nothing will change

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Stopping the press from breaking the law is not the same as stopping free speech.

  • Comment number 63.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Whatever form press regulation takes, we need to remember that these people broke existing laws when they hacked phones and e-mails. They broke existing laws when they payed police officers and others, as did the people receiving the money. Better policing and more action by the DPP has to be part of the answer. Prosecution too of those at the top please, I mean owners and not just their lackies

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    @13 indeed, Murdoch had lunch with Mr Farage recently. What does that tell you?

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    RE: 5 Vampire. What the NOTW did was illegal, but getting this exposed and corrected was proving impossible. Something had to change; you can't go on trashing lives, careers, and reputation for what? It wasn't about news, it was all about big story, big sales. A lot of REAL news was being side-lined. Maybe now the news that does impact lives will begin to make a return.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    This is welcome news and I congratulate Ed Milliband for his leadership in this. It is just a shame that he is not the Prime Minister

    The fact is we need to be able to control the press (in particular the likes of the sun and the daily mail) otherwise we will see more of the same from them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    The public has been done up like a kipper here.

    If you want to replace something that has widespread public support (a free press / NHS / BBC / public sector police / welfare state etc) firstly create a scary problem, await the reaction (“Something must be done!!”) and then come riding to the rescue with the solution.

    Action – Reaction – Solution.
    (see Machiavelli, Sun Tzu etc).

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Phone hacking is already illegal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Its fairly shameful that the parties seem to have been playing a game of political point scoring over this issue.

    It is also fairly shameful the way that the tabloids have tried to defend press freedom, as if regulation will see us down a path to totalitarianism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    I'm glad that the main parties have agreed on a deal. It needs cross-party support if it's going to be taken seriously. Let's hope it works

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    As long as the papers that follow the code advertise the fact that they do so, then it's up to the public to decide which papers to buy (maybe a 'fairtrade' type logo on the front page).

    Democracy in action! If you don't like how the papers behave, then only buy/read the ones that sign up to the code - certain papers will soon lose readers and close down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    The freedom of the press is the freedom to publish anything truthful, no matter how damning. It is not the freedom to publish lies and malicious slander. Of course the press need reigning in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Why do all BBC politics articles seem to follow this layout?:

    Something to do with politics has happened

    Ed Miliband thinks this

    Everyone else has thoughts on it too

    ...but Ed Miliband thinks this.

    Why so much attention to the opposition all the time? We want to know what all of them have to say! How else can we make an informed decision? Come on BBC sort it out!


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