Press regulation deal struck by parties

From BBC News:

Culture secretary Maria Miller: “A royal charter is the right solution”

A deal has been struck between the three main political parties on measures to regulate the press, Labour’s Harriet Harman says.

It comes after talks were held overnight between the Lib Dem and Labour leaders and a senior Tory minister on a new press watchdog.

But Tory Maria Miller said leaders still needed to discuss details.

An overhaul of press regulation began after it was revealed that journalists had hacked thousands of phones.

Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry into press ethics in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal called for a new, independent regulator backed by legislation, which prompted months of political wrangling.

The prime minister had opposed establishing a watchdog backed by law, but the other parties have pushed for it.

The BBC’s Nick Robinson said Labour and the Liberal Democrats appeared to have accepted a watered-down version of their demands for full legal underpinning of a royal charter establishing a new watchdog.

Ms Miller said: “We’re very close to a deal. What has been accepted by all the main parties is that the prime minister’s royal charter should go ahead, and more importantly we’ve stopped Labour’s extreme version of the press law.”

She added: “It’s important that we get the details right, and there needs to be a conversation between the leaders, and I think that will go ahead this morning.”

Last week talks ended abruptly, with Prime Minister David Cameron instead publishing his proposals – prompting Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband to join forces to unveil rival plans.

Ms Harman said a planned vote on the issue due to be held in the Commons later would not go ahead.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Yes, there is an agreement.”

She explained that “a small piece of legislation” in the enterprise and regulatory reform bill would be tabled in the Lords later, stating that rules regarding royal charters cannot be tampered with.

This “compromise clause” would not mention any specific charter, Leveson or the press, reports BBC political correspondent Norman Smith.

Labour’s Harriet Harman: “The freedom of the press is not interfered with”

However, the royal charter for the press will state it can only be altered by a “super majority” of two-thirds in both houses.

It appears to allow Labour and the Lib Dems to claim they have secured legislation and for Mr Cameron to claim that there is no legislation linked to the press.

Labour and the Conservatives have differing views on Monday’s deal.

Ms Harman said the deal was about making sure that there was independent regulator “with teeth… so that if the press get something wrong, the regulator can direct them to correct it”.

Ms Miller said: “This is not a statutory underpinning, it is simply making sure that there’s no change. It’s a no-change clause.”

Sources at Downing Street said Mr Cameron, by bringing the issue to a head, had ensured there would be no press law or statutory underpinning of the royal charter.

“The PM, who was in a minority position, has played a very difficult hand incredibly well,” a No 10 source told the BBC’s Norman Smith.

Nick Robinson said the press had been informed and consulted during the weekend talks. Key players were the Telegraph’s Lord Black, Associated Newspapers’ Peter Wright, the editor of the Times John Witherow and the editor of the FT Lionel Barber, he says.

But reacting to news of a political deal, one newspaper industry source told the BBC they were “instinctively uncomfortable” with it.

The source noted that there was no compulsion for the papers to be involved in the new system – they could carry on setting up a new regulator but decide that the regulator should not apply for official recognition.

The industry’s proposed independent body would be able to fine those who breached its standards – up to £1m – and award compensation to victims. There would be an investigative arm, to look into serious wrongdoing by papers, and legally enforceable contracts, to bind publishers into the new system and ensure funding.

The press industry’s existing self-regulation body, the Press Complaints Commission, has already moved into a “transitional phase” while a long-term replacement can be established.

It currently upholds its own editors’ code of practice, and judges complaints about newspapers and magazines against the code, but the UK newspaper and magazine industry has been working on a new regulatory system.

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