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Press regulation: Parties reach agreement on new press law

The Government yesterday announced a landmark agreement between all three major political parties on the future regulation of the press, with the creation of a Royal Charter, a new regulator and a statutory provision to prevent the Charter being tampered with, reports Reuters and the BBC.

For a while an agreement looked in doubt, but eventually and surprisingly the three main political parties yesterday announced a landmark deal paving the way for new press regulation in the wake of the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics.

The deal was immediately met with derision from journalists and some elements of the Conservative Party, who feel that their leadership backed down after announcing that talks would not continue and the matter would be put to a vote on Monday afternoon.

In the end the vote was cancelled, as Prime Minister David Cameron announced a deal that will see a Royal Charter drafted to create a new press regulator, whilst an amendment to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill will ensure that future amendments to the Charter can only be made with a two-thirds majority in both the Commons and the Lords.

All three parties were claiming some victory over the agreement, with the Conservatives claiming that they had avoided shackling the press with statutory regulation and Labour and the Liberal Democrats claiming to have brokered the agreement.

Press regulation

The Royal Charter proposed yesterday will create a new independent press regulator, with the power to impose fines on publishers and order them to print apologies when mistakes are made. Appointments to the regulator would be independent as would its funding.

The new system will also provide a free arbitration service for victims, allowing them to complain without paying thousands in legal fees. Complaints will also need to be heard quickly.

Speaking of the agreement, David Cameron identified the victims of unethical press behaviour as the sorts of people who would benefit from the new changes.

"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," he said in the wake of the announcement yesterday.

"It is right that we put in place a new system of press regulation to ensure such appalling acts can never happen again," he added.

Criticism

However, the new regulatory agreement was not welcomed by Conservative back-benchers who believed that Cameron had buckled under pressure from the other parties and had potentially caved in on statutory regulation of the press.

Journalists and publishers reacted to the announcement saying that they had not been consulted on the agreement and that it contained several very contentious issues. However, they stopped short of giving an opinion until they had a chance to carefully study the proposals.

Journalists fear that a free complaint system will be abused by trolls who could target individual journalists with repeated, baseless accusations. There is also concern that free, independent investigative journalism will be stifled by the threat of large fines.

Source:

Britain seals deal to regulate scandal-hungry press (Reuters)

Press regulation deal struck by parties (BBC News)