UK politicians agree press regulation deal without papers

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Britain’s three main political parties reached agreement Friday on a deal to regulate newspapers, following 11 months of disputes since a wide-ranging press ethics inquiry.

However, the newspapers could take legal action if the politicians’ proposals - which were drawn up without input from the newspaper groups - are adopted and become a Royal Charter underpinning a new press regulation body.

The new system of arbitration proposes levying a fee on any party that wants to take action against newspapers.

In the wake of the Leveson Inquiry, which was sparked by revelations of phone hacking at the Rupert Murdoch-owned News of the World tabloid, newspapers proposed their own, alternative system of self-regulation.

Media commentator Stuart Purviss said the agreement by the politicians represents “the moment of truth for the newspaper industry.”

He told the BBC: “They’re either going to have to decide to live with it and work under this kind of Royal Charter or they’re going to have to walk away from the process and say look, you, parliament, do what you like but we’re going to set up our own regulator.

“We’re not going play by your rules but we’re going to get on with it and we believe that the version that we come up will satisfy what most people want.”

Toothless body

Britain’s newspapers are currently self-regulated, but critics say the organization that deals with grievances, the Press Complaints Commission, is a toothless body.

The government proposals foresee the creation of an “independent, self-regulatory” body which would have the power to fine newspapers up to £1 million ($1.6 million, 1.2 million euros).

Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, said the press would never accept the politicians’ proposals.

“You can’t expect anybody to take on board something which is put upon them by politicians,” he told BBC television.

“The differences (between the sides) now, after all this time, are actually very small but they’re very important.

“What editors are concerned about, certainly, is that you can’t have even the smallest loophole which will allow for - in the future, when there’s another great row between politicians and the press - for the politicians to bring in some really draconian system of licensing of newspapers.

“You can’t have a half-free press. It’s got to be free or not.”

But Hacked Off, the campaigning group backed by actor Hugh Grant, welcomed the agreement, saying: “We now look forward to better protection for the public from the kinds of abuses that made the Leveson Inquiry necessary.”

Murdoch shut down the 168-year-old News of the World in 2011 after it was alleged journalists from the Sunday tabloid had hacked into the mobile phone of Milly Dowler, a teenage girl who was later found murdered.

The owners of the News of the World have paid out millions of pounds to other victims of phone hacking, and the scandal has spawned a series of criminal charges and trials.