Britain’s main political parties agreed on measures to regulate newspapers after Prime Minister David Cameron and his coalition partners split over the issue last week.
Cameron’s Conservatives reached a deal in late-night talks with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats and the opposition Labour Party to introduce a Royal Charter creating a new newspaper complaints body, backed by a clause in a bill passing through Parliament today that will make it difficult for the nature of the charter to be changed.
The parties have been negotiating since November on how to implement recommendations by Judge Brian Leveson, who was asked by Cameron to conduct an inquiry into the press after the News Corp. (NWSA) hacking scandal. Cameron pulled out of negotiations last week, saying they’d reached an impasse, and proposed introducing his preferred measures to Parliament today. The premier, who said he was opposed to any kind of law regulating the media, faced defeat without Liberal Democrat support.
“There was a real danger that if we pursued a detailed Leveson approach that we would have been part of an exercise in grandstanding, something of a charade, rather than something that would actually deliver for victims,” Cameron told Parliament in a debate on the compromise plan today. “This is not by any stretch statutory regulation of the press.”
Clegg accused Cameron last week of “party-political point scoring” after the talks broke down. Today, replying to the prime minister, he said the outcome of the talks was “not a victory for any one individual or any one team. It is a victory for working together, for putting narrow interests to one side.”
The Leveson inquiry was set up after the scandal at News Corp.’s now defunct News of the World tabloid, which has led to at least 36 arrests. Trinity Mirror Plc (TNI)’s Sunday Mirror was dragged into the affair last week as London police arrested four journalists connected to the newspaper.
News Corp. may face further phone-hacking claims as hundreds more victims have been identified in a new police investigation, a lawyer representing the victims said at a London hearing today.
News International, one of News Corp.’s British arms, has resolved hundreds of claims by victims through court-approved settlements and an out-of-court process created by the company.
Labour lawmaker Tom Watson, who persisted in raising questions about phone-hacking between 2009 and 2011, said that in the past, ordinary people encountered “random acts of malice” with politicians reluctant to act. “This was a dark hour for our parliamentary democracy,” he told Parliament.
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