UK Conservatives seek to break media law deadlock

Tue Feb 12, 2013 1:21pm EST

* Conservatives publish draft plan to regulate newspapers

* David Cameron has rejected new laws to control media

* Plan would lead to UK's "toughest ever press regulation"

LONDON, Feb 12 (Reuters) - British Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives set out plans to regulate the newspaper industry on Tuesday in a bid to break the parliamentary deadlock that followed the judge-led inquiry into press standards and phone hacking.

Culture Secretary Maria Miller published her party's draft proposals more than two months after a senior judge called for a new watchdog backed by legislation to police the sometimes "outrageous" press following the year-long inquiry.

The government was forced to find an alternative solution however after Cameron - believing it would threaten the concept of a free press - rejected the need for a new law. That put him at odds with his Liberal Democrat junior coalition partners and opposition Labour Party.

In response, Miller laid out plans on Tuesday for a Royal Charter that proposed setting up a body called the recognition panel which would oversee a regulator.

It believes the use of a charter, which sets out the terms of major organisations such as the BBC, would make up for the lack of legislation proposed by the Leveson inquiry.

Under the plans, the charter could only be changed with the agreement of the leaders of the three main political parties and two thirds of lawmakers.

"I have been clear that the 'status quo' is not an option and that we need tough independent self-regulation," Miller said. "Equally, I have said that I have grave concerns about a press bill and am not convinced that it is necessary on the grounds of principle, practicality or necessity.

"The Royal Charter would allow the principles of Leveson to be implemented swiftly and in a practical fashion. It would see the toughest press regulation this country has ever seen, without compromising press freedom."

INTRUSIVE

The behaviour of Britain's cut-throat tabloid media came under intense scrutiny after journalists resorted to increasingly intrusive tactics to break salacious stories to shore up falling circulation figures.

Cameron ordered the Leveson inquiry to investigate the conduct of the press after journalists and staff at Rupert Murdoch's now-defunct News of the World admitted hacking into the voicemails of phones to generate stories.

A campaign group set up to call for higher standards in the newspaper industry, Hacked Off, said the plan for a Royal Charter fell a long way below what was needed.

"Leveson made 30 specific recommendations that set out the minimum requirements for a new press self-regulator," the group said. "These 'recognition criteria' were designed to ensure that the self-regulator would always put the interests of the public before those of the press.

"Of those 30, the draft Royal Charter breaches well over half, and ministers admit that all of them are in response to representations from the press - in other words, they have given editors what they demanded." (Reporting by Kate Holton; Editing by Peter Griffiths)

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