Joe Utichi contributes to Deadline’s UK coverage.
UPDATE, 4:09 PM: The UK government today announced a fresh sweep of press regulation reforms, brought about as a result of the News Of The World phone-hacking brouhaha. But key newspaper groups, including Rupert Murdoch’s News International, have refused to endorse the government’s proposals. A late-night round of cross-party negotiations prevented a potentially embarrassing rebellion from within David Cameron’s own party as the two proposals were brought to consensus. The final reforms will see British papers regulated by a watchdog run completely independently of the media. Fines of up to £1M — thought to be the toughest in the world — would be handed down to the worst offenders. And the only legal statute relates to the right of ministers to change the rules in future, designed to prevent any possible corruptions to freedom of speech.
In a group statement signed by News International, along with Daily Mail publishers Associated Newspapers, the Telegraph media group and Richard Desmond’s Northern & Shell, newspaper proprietors say the proposals feature “several deeply contentious issues which have not yet been resolved with the industry”. As one senior exec told the Guardian, “This is a political deal between the three parties and Hacked Off,” referring to the campaign group fronted by Hugh Grant. “It is not a deal with the newspapers.”
PREVIOUS, SUNDAY PM: The phone-hacking scandal is rearing its ugly head in Britain once again. Detectives have spent the weekend poring over an estimated 600 new allegations at the News Of The World, uncovered thanks to evidence from a suspect-turned-informant, and details are expected to emerge at a high court hearing tomorrow. Across town the same day, there will be a heated debate in Parliament over recommendations made by the Leveson Inquiry into UK media ethics. That’s the probe that was convened after phone-hacking revelations exploded at Rupert Murdoch’s now-defunct newspaper in 2011. Meanwhile, Hugh Grant, a dogged supporter of press reform who settled his own News Of The World phone-hacking case with News Corp in December, has some choice words for Prime Minister David Cameron who is resisting a key recommendation from Leveson.
The Leveson Report found that the press “wreaked havoc with the lives innocent people,” while operating under the current self-regulatory system. It calls for a legal “backstop regulator” to oversee a restructured press watchdog. Both Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats and Ed Miliband of the Labour Party support the suggestion, but Cameron is against it, as are newspaper editors who see it as a threat to freedom of the press. Grant wrote in today’s Observer that Cameron is choosing press barons like Murdoch over the public with his support of a bill that lets the newspaper industry “continue to mark its own homework.” He wrote that, for Cameron, “Staying on good terms with Rupert Murdoch is more important” than standing up for “thousands of members of the public who have been trashed in Britain’s newspapers.”
Cameron is proposing a press watchdog set up by “royal charter” – an archaic mandate from the monarch that grants power to an organization to carry out specific duties. That’s how the BBC was established, but many feel Cameron’s royal charter for the press has no real teeth. Clegg and Miliband’s proposal includes the royal charter, but also introduces the statutory underpinning. Between 20 and 60 of Cameron’s own Conservative Party ministers could rebel against his plan during tomorrow’s debate.
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