UK media worried over new regulation

UK media worried over new regulation

UK media worried over new regulation

Across Britain, newspaper front pages voiced disquiet at the establishment of an independent watchdog. AP photo

Britain’s newspapers railed yesterday against a new system of press regulation agreed by political leaders, which the biggest media groups have warned raises “deeply contentious issues.”

Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, his Liberal Democrat deputy Nick Clegg and opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband all signed up March 18 to a tough new watchdog underpinned by law. They say it will rein in the kind of misdeeds exposed by the phone-hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid without curbing press freedom.

But newspapers still have to opt in to the scheme, which is designed as a beefed-up system of self-regulation. Newspaper publishers have complained that they were excluded from the final round of talks which led to the deal, which by contrast were attended by campaigners for more regulation.

Burdensome regulator

Many in Britain acknowledge the need for reform of the country’s press following a damaging scandal over phone hacking, bribery, and other media misdeeds. And partisans on all sides of the argument are loudly proclaiming their loyalty to a free press and free speech.

But newspaper groups are concerned that the new body agreed to by politicians will become a burdensome regulator, bogging down newspaper groups with endless and expensive complaints about coverage.

The new watchdog would have the power to issue harsh sanctions on misbehaving newspapers, including fines of up to $1.5 million. It will also be able to force newspapers to issue upfront apologies for inaccurate or intrusive stories, as well as offering a free arbitration system for victims.

Hacked Off, which represents victims of media intrusion, said the proposals were “second best” to a full press law but would help prevent a repeat of the hacking scandal. However, The Times said that the agreement was a “bleak episode in the story of freedom of the press in Britain.”

Interference first time since 17th century

The Daily Mail added: “All the weasel words in the world cannot disguise that, for the first time since the 17th century, there will be political interference in British newspapers.” In a joint statement on March 18, the Daily Mail Group, Telegraph Media Group and News International, which publishes The Sun and The Times, warned there were “several deeply contentious issues which have not yet been resolved with the industry.”

The Newspaper Society was more forthright in its condemnation, saying the new system would “place a crippling burden” on the 1,100 local newspapers its represents.