U.K. Group Backed by Hugh Grant Caused Damage in Press Reform Talks, Politician Says

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J.K. Rowling, John Cleese and other celebrities have also supported changes to newspaper regulation proposed by Hacked Off.

LONDON – U.K. culture secretary Maria Miller has said that a press reform group, of which Hugh Grant is a director, caused "lasting damage" to press reform efforts.
The group, Hacked Off, has also received support for its reform efforts from such big entertainment industry names as J.K. Rowling, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, musician Bryan Adams and author Helen Fielding.

The group earlier this year got involved in political negotiations over regulation in late-night talks with members of the three main political parties in the offices of the leader of the Labour Party, after which the British government unveiled plans for a so-called royal charter for a new press regulator.

Newspaper companies had long been weary of Hacked Off's efforts and used its involvement as another reason to oppose the proposed regulator.

Hacked Off's involvement "became quite a destructive force in the perception of the press," Miller told fellow members of parliament in the culture, media and sport select committee, according to the Guardian. "I think it made some lasting damage. We had managed to get to a stage where we were on the verge of agreement. Some of the interventions over [that] weekend created a great deal of bad will."

The newspaper industry has been promoting its own proposed self-regulator, the so-called Independent Press Standards Organization. That has meant a compromise between the industry and British politicians has yet to be reached more than a year after the Leveson Report, ordered amid the phone-hacking scandal, outlined reforms needed.

Miller said though that she was an "optimist" and that she feels she has made progress in her attempts to improve relations with the newspaper industry.

"It took a great deal of work to get that back on track," the Guardian quoted her as saying.

Evan Harris, associate director of Hacked Off, said: "The large media corporations were never going to like losing their useless and obedient [self-regulatory] model and have tried to scapegoat Hacked Off because we have given an effective voice for the first time to the ordinary victims of press abuse."

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