* Decision to reject press law earns PM praise
* Puts poor electoral performance in the background
* Issue will not go away, parliamentary defeat possible
By Kate Holton and Michael Holden
LONDON, Nov 30 British Prime Minister David
Cameron woke on Friday to find usually hostile newspapers
gushing about his statesman-like qualities after he signalled
his opposition to a new law governing the press.
After his party suffered a night of humiliation in three
parliamentary by-elections, instead of facing questions over his
leadership, he was cheered for rejecting the main plank of
proposals from a public inquiry he set up in the wake of outrage
at the excesses of tabloid newspapers.
Under a headline over two pages lauding "Cameron's Stand for
Freedom", the right-wing Daily Mail said a "Defiant PM" had
refused to accept the call for laws to control the press.
"To his enormous credit, however, David Cameron sees this
report for what it is - a mortal threat to the British people's
historic right to know," it said in its editorial.
"If he prevails in protecting that right, with the help of
like-minded freedom lovers in the Commons and Lords, he will
earn a place of honour in our history."
The Daily Telegraph, another right-leaning newspaper that
has been far from fulsome in its support for Cameron, said the
unexpected decision had revealed his leadership and acceptance
that press freedom was "a constitutional necessity".
"He has answered the hopes of a Conservative Party that
sometimes wonders what he stands for," the paper said in a
commentary piece on its front page.
Cameron's clear sign he would reject the main recommendation
of the report from Lord Justice Brian Leveson followed a
year-long inquiry that heard in unflinching detail from
celebrities, victims of crime and others who said the
notoriously aggressive press had ruined their lives.
It also followed weeks of frantic lobbying by the newspapers
who argued any involvement of the law in press regulation would
amount to state control and an attack on free speech, putting
Britain on a par with Zimbabwe.
Critically, Cameron's stance also puts him on the same side
as the majority of his senior Conservative ministers who had
openly opposed legislation, and in alliance with Boris Johnson,
a former journalist and London mayor who is cheered by the press
and seen as a possible challenger to Cameron in the future.
While it will bolster his position in the eyes of press
barons ahead of a 2015 election, it is not without risk.
It puts him in clear opposition to Nick Clegg, leader of the
junior Liberal Democrat party in the coalition, and vulnerable
to defeat in parliament if the opposition force a vote.
It also earned him the condemnation of those who spoke out
against the press, including celebrities and families of murder
victims, who accused the prime minister of betrayal.
"Having taken David Cameron's assurances in good faith at
the outset of the inquiry he set up, I am merely one among many
who feel duped and angry in its wake," said Harry Potter author
The billionaire writer told Leveson's inquiry last November
how she was forced to move house because of tabloid harassment.
Both the politicians who oppose Cameron and the press
victims plan to keep up the pressure as lawmakers try to find a
In a statement Rowling encouraged people to sign an online
petition run by the Hacked Off pressure group demanding
Britain's political leaders implement Leveson's recommendations
Malcolm Rifkind, a Conservative party grandee and former
foreign secretary, told Reuters the pressure applied by senior
members of the cabinet had meant Cameron could not simply accept
the Leveson recommendations in full.
Rifkind has given his backing to statutory regulation.
Newspaper editors said they would discuss "a fresh approach"
next week at a meeting of their Editors' Code of Practice
Committee, a body set up under the UK's existing system where
publications police much of their own behaviour without state
Commentators on the popular ConservativeHome website mostly
backed Cameron for showing backbone over the issue but even they
warned he should not get used to the adulation.
Rupert Murdoch's Sun tabloid, which has been particularly
tough on Cameron's government and would typically oppose any
apparent attack on the press, joined his Times paper in being
conciliatory towards Leveson and less exuberant about Cameron.
The 4 million pound ($6 million) inquiry was ordered after
the Sun's sister title the News of the World admitted hacking
into phone messages on an industrial scale to generate ever more
"Much of Lord Leveson's report on the press makes sense,"
the Sun said in its editorial, adding it applauded Cameron's
decision to oppose any legal basis for a new watchdog.
The only major newspaper to question Cameron's decision was
the left-leaning Guardian, which led much of the coverage of the
phone hacking scandal last year.
"The prime minister has surprised many, especially the
victims, with his multi-levelled concerns about statute ... It
is not clear if this is a position of principle, or to win
friends on the Tory benches and in Fleet Street," it said.