'The Economist' Joins Opposition to U.K. Press Regulation Deal

David Cameron - The Prime Minister Leaves Downing Street - 2011
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The weekly calls a royal charter for a tough new regulator "a rotten deal" and says the British government made "a shameful hash" of the arrangement.

LONDON - The Economist is the latest U.K. publication to oppose a royal charter to regulate the press that the British government unveiled Monday.

The weekly joined news magazines The Spectator and New Statesman in rejecting the arrangement.

In an editorial, The Economist didn't directly address whether it would agree to be part of the system that calls for a tough  press regulator that could hand out fines and force papers to run prominent apologies.

But the publication called the arrangement "a rotten deal" and argued that the government of Prime Minister David Cameron made "a shameful hash" of the regulatory arrangement.

The Economist, like other critics, expressed concern that the royal charter is tied to law, which some argue amounts to government control of the media.

The new regulator is "underpinned by statute and monitored by a new recognizing body, whose first set of members will be appointed by yet another committee, itself partly government-appointed," The Economist highlighted. "Although the proposal involves bizarre institutional contortions to distance press regulation from the government, it raises the specter of state regulation."

It also called planned punitive damages for those publications that do not sign up to the new regulator "unfair." The government called that clause an incentive to get papers to join the new system.

The Economist also criticized judge Brian Leveson for his Leveson Inquiry report on the state and ethics of the press, which was published late last year. Calling the report "sloppy," it said it included "one good idea," namely that the press should be encouraged to join a tough new self-regulator in exchange for relief from Britain's tough libel laws.

Concluded The Economist: "Society gains more from a free press than it loses from the tabloids' occasional abuse of defenseless people."

News Corp.'s U.K. newspaper unit News International and other daily newspaper publishers have been exploring their options, including bringing a lawsuit against certain elements of the press regulation charter. They also have been mulling the launch of their own regulatory system.

News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch this week criticized the all-party agreement to establish a new press regulator as a "holy mess."

E-mail: Georg.Szalai@thr.com
Twitter: @georgszalai