Cameron warning on press rules

Wed, Dec 5, 2012, 00:00

British newspaper editors have been given just 48 hours by British prime minister David Cameron to show they can reach a deal on tough new rules to prevent abuses.

If they fail, they will face the threat of state-imposed rules in the new year.

The warning to 19 editors during a meeting at 10 Downing Street is a bid by Mr Cameron – who does not want statutory regulation of the press in any form – to ensure he is not outmanoeuvred by Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband.

Mr Cameron said the clock was ticking for newspapers and that new rules must “absolutely” meet Lord Justice Leveson’s standards.

“That means million-pound fines, proper investigation of complaints, prominent apologies, a tough independent regulatory system.”

Speaking in the Commons on Monday night, British culture secretary Maria Miller, equally opposed to regulation, warned that urgent change had to happen “with the support of the press or – if we are given no option – without it”.

Some of the editors, minus one of the most powerful, the Daily Mail’s Paul Dacre, who was absent for a friend’s funeral, were unhappy about walking into No 10 in the full glare of TV cameras. One described it as “the perp walk”.

Fines and penalties

Before the release of the Leveson report, Lord (David) Hunt and Lord (Guy) Black proposed that newspapers be subjected to £1 million (€1.2 million) fines and other penalties by signing up to five-year agreements governed by civil contract law.

Now, however, they accept that they must go further if they are to avoid something worse.

Speaking after the meeting with the editors, Ms Miller said they had responded positively to the demand for “more robust self-regulation”, though pro-regulation campaign group Hacked Off called it “the Cameron-Murdoch pact”.

Daily Telegraph editor Tony Gallagher likened the meeting to “the summoning of the five families in The Godfather”.

The entire government legal team is working to produce a draft law that would implement almost everything in Leveson bar statutory regulation, along with curbs to data protection privileges enjoyed by reporters, said a senior minister.

The legislation – which Labour argues is designed to show the difficulties of drafting a new law rather than overcoming them – would be ready within a fortnight, British cabinet office minister Oliver Letwin said.

Tribunal

The legislation would lay the ground for a tribunal to handle libel and privacy complaints cheaply and quickly – one that could make binding judgments on all sides that would be recognised by the courts.

Mr Cameron has raised concerns about TV regulator Ofcom being given a role to certify that an independent press council is operating properly.

But Mr Letwin said he would find “an unimpeachable” verifier to do the job that would be seen as “independent beyond a shadow of doubt”.