Britain’s three main political parties reached agreement on Friday on a new set of rules to govern the country’s newspapers after months of haggling over how the often-raucous industry should be policed.
Prime Minister David Cameron had struggled to find a compromise between those demanding tougher regulation of newspapers, and angry newspaper barons and senior colleagues who argued that the freedom of the press was in jeopardy.
Last November, senior judge Brian Leveson concluded a year-long public inquiry into press ethics with his 1,987-page report denouncing certain newspaper tactics and calling for an industry watchdog, enshrined in law, to regulate journalists’ behaviour.
The government said politicians from the three main parties had now agreed on a system to be enshrined under a Royal Charter which provided a code of practice to editors, with an arbitration system to deal with complaints.
The proposal announced on Friday had been amended in response to press objections, to include measures such as requiring those wishing to complain to pay a small fee and for editors to play a greater role on the committee establishing the rules governing press behaviour.
The so-called Industry Steering group, which speaks on behalf of the newspapers, said they would study the proposals but said they remained concerned about the involvement of politicians in regulating the press.
This means there is still a possibility some newspapers might refuse to adhere to the scheme and set up their own regulator.
“This remains a charter written by politicians, imposed by politicians and controlled by politicians,” the group said. “It has not been approved by any of the newspapers or magazines it seeks to regulate.”
Hacked Off, a group set up to represent victims of press abuse, welcomed the agreement and called on the newspaper industry to accept the proposal.
“The way is now open to create a system of independent, effective press self-regulation that will benefit the public and poses no threat whatever to freedom of expression,” it said in a statement.
“Ordinary people will have far better redress when things go wrong, and the Charter will also benefit the industry, giving it a chance to rebuild trust and show its commitment to high standards.”