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.

Analysis

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
    +3

    Comment number 405.

    I don't think a regulatory body is necessary, and I think it will end up limiting the free press.

    If news organisations break laws (e.g. phone tapping), then they need to be charged. And as for the rest, the best and most effective way to regulate the press is with your wallet. But personal responsibility seems to be too much to ask, I suppose.

  • rate this
    +35

    Comment number 398.

    Hold on a minute, we already have laws in place to deal with these issues they are not enforced and are flouted by priviledged individuals. Simply enforce the existing laws and we wont have to change a thing. This is all posturing and jostling for political position. Do not be deluded by this facade.

  • rate this
    +26

    Comment number 387.

    Shame on our so called Leaders.
    I'm doubtless naive but had hoped that those promises to "fully" implement Leveson might actually mean something.

    And when are we going to see the end of "undisclosed damages"? The press itself bangs on about the public's right to know whenever they want to print something scurrilous, so how about the public's right to know the punishments meted out?

  • rate this
    -50

    Comment number 190.

    For all their sins I still trust the printed press in this country over the current offering of what passes for our our 'political classes'. And I most certainly do not trust any legislation that has been drafted so as it cannot be undone. Otherwise being gay would still be illegal and we would still be hanging people. So bad job. If you want to regulate something useful try house prices.

  • rate this
    +194

    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

 

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