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Leveson round up: What the papers say

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By John Glenday, Reporter

March 19, 2013 | 5 min read

In the wake of a cross party agreement on press regulation heads are beginning to digest precisely what this will mean for the industry, specifically which (if any) of the media big beasts will refuse to sign up. Here we collate the key newspaper leaders to coral that thinking.

First up The Telegraph which wrote... "for all Mr Cameron’s protestations, the distinction between his proposed regime and statutory regulation is a semantic one. As Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, observed, the solution involves a mixture of Royal Charter and statute.

"The near unanimity in Parliament yesterday in support of the new approach was a powerful indication of how far the press needs to move in order to restore faith in its regulatory structure. The three party leaders urged the newspaper industry to endorse the new dispensation as quickly as possible. However, after 318 years of a free press, its detail deserves careful consideration."

The guardian meanwhile observed: "Monday night's noncommittal statement by the Newspaper Society suggests that many powerful players are still calculating whether to play ball. The deal done should unblock the government's legislative programme, and secure early passage of a defamation bill, a potentially momentous advance for free speech. But doubts continue to linger, not only about powerful titles setting up secessionist self-regulators but also about fears of ruinously punitive damages for publications prospectively outside the system, such as Private Eye. After doing a deal among themselves, the politicians will breathe a sigh of relief and hope they can move on. But as the industry alights on grievances, both real and hyperbolic, the political class as a whole could discover that the brokering has only just begun."

The Financial Times meanwhile observed that 'self-regulation is dead' and that the British press must now adapt to these new realities. It said: "Legislation, even in a simple clause, sets a worrying precedent. Some will seek comfort in the fact that the Royal Charter can be amended only with a two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament. On a positive note, the press will continue to write its own code of conduct, to which it will be held accountable. This is much more important than the obligation to publish front-page apologies.

"An equally welcome outcome of the cross-party talks is that the long-sought reform of Britain’s oppressive libel laws will go ahead. Labour has agreed to drop its amendments to the defamation bill. This will allow the media to hold the powerful to account by reinforcing free speech.

"Some newspapers opposed in principle to any form of statutory underpinning might be tempted to go their own way. They will balk at not being able to veto appointments to the new regulator. But for the body to be credible, the press cannot choose who sits on the board. The new regime is far from perfect, but the onus is now on making it work."

The Times adopted a pessimistic tone in an editorial titled 'across the Rubicon', saying: "Unfortunately, nobody made the central point, which is the principle that a free press not subject to Parliamentary statute has been conceded.

This was a deal done without the involvement of the British press, even though the campaign group Hacked Off was, remarkably, present during the negotiations." The paper goes on to raise a number of questions about the deal; namely who will pay the price of the new system? Who will be involved in the regulation? Does the agreement breach Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights? And whether court challenges against publications which refuse to participate, as the Spectator has already intimated, will work?

In their leader The Sun wrote: “…much remains to be studied before the Royal Charter can be accepted as the foundation stone of new regulation.

"As we report, serious questions are raised by organisations who don’t have Hacked Off Hugh’s axe to grind. One is how new rules would apply to the internet, where Twitter and blogs have changed the media landscape for ever.

"Top Tory Peter Lilley warns the new regulator could become an Orwellian “Ministry of Truth” issuing decrees to papers on what facts can be published and ordering massive corrections to suit its own view. As he pointed out, this won’t apply to the BBC.

"And where was the Prime Minister when the Charter deal was finalised by senior teams from all sides? Hacked Off WERE in the room.”

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