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Britain Seals Deal To Regulate Scandal-Hungry Press

posted 18 Mar 2013, 19:00 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 18 Mar 2013, 19:01 ]

A cross-party deal has been reached to create a new system to regulate the news media in Britain.

LONDON, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM (MARCH 18, 2013) (ITN) -  Britain's main political parties agreed to create a new system to regulate the news media on Monday (March 18), hoping to end an era when tabloid newspapers trawled through people's mobile phone messages to dredge up salacious stories.

Public outrage over phone hacking, which went beyond celebrities to include victims of crime and abducted children, pushed the government to act, but it said it had done so in a way that still protected press freedom.

Under the compromise agreed by the three main parties and approved by parliament late on Monday, a new press regulator will be set up with the power to levy fines of up to 1 million pounds ($1.5 million) and to oblige newspapers to print prominent apologies where appropriate.

Prime Minister David Cameron said the royal charter will help deliver a new system of independent and robust press regulation in our country.

"Now this is what this Royal Charter does. Without the need to write down in legislation the title, the definition, the functions, the power, the rules or the composition of a new system of regulation. It puts those in place in a royal charter rather than in legislation," he told parliament.

Labour and Liberal Democrat leaders also hailed the deal.

"Today represents a huge moment for the House. We are doing right thing. Politics has failed to grasp this issue for decades. But today politicians have come together to put the victims first," said Labour leader Ed Miliband.

"The last time the three party leaders addressed the House on issue it was because we couldn't agree. This time thankfully it's because we have," said Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrats leader.

The government came under pressure to create a new regulatory system afterThe Guardian newspaper exposed phone hacking by tabloid papers. The hacking of a murdered schoolgirl's phone led to a judge-led inquiry which laid bare the scale of the problem.

But concerns that a new system could imperil press freedom delayed agreement, with some press barons threatening to boycott a new regulatory regime and campaigners for tougher regulation accusing Cameron of being in thrall to the press.

Monday's deal spares Cameron what was shaping up to be an embarrassing political defeat in parliament that would have deepened rifts in his coalition government.

The three parties had been divided over whether a new press regulator should be enshrined in law and over how its members would be chosen. But they reached a compromise after agreeing to enact legislation to ensure the new system could not be easily altered later.

"This is what Lord Justice Leveson recommended in November. He did not recommend the use of royal charter, and we believe charter is second best," saidBrian Cathcart on Monday, director of the victims' group Hacked Off.