U.K. Parties Reach Press Regulation Compromise

David Cameron - P 2012
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The royal charter allows all sides to claim victory and puts key Leveson Report proposals into place, but it wasn't immediately clear what reception media groups would give it.

LONDON - Britain's political parties have reached a compromise that will establish a new press regulator after last-minute talks that lasted into the early hours of Monday.

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The compromise, in the form of a so-called royal charter, seems to use language that allows all sides to claim a victory. It is expected to reach parliament later on Monday.

It wasn't immediately clear if there would be a formal vote on the all-parties agreement. The BBC said there would be a statement in the House of Commons on the agreement.

In a public relations battle early Monday, Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party and the opposition Labour Party both said the other side made key concessions to reach a deal that would put into effect proposals made in the final report of the Leveson Inquiry late last year. The inquiry was set up in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal surrounding News Corp.'s U.K. newspaper arm News International.

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Cameron has said that press regulation is important but needs to ensure the continued freedom of the press.

The biggest debate on Monday morning was about whether the compromise would set up a new U.K. press regulator only under a so-called royal charter or whether it would also include legal underpinnings, as Labour had pushed for.

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Harriet Harman, deputy leader of the Labour Party, told BBC Radio Four's Today show that activists against press intrusion would be "happy" with the agreement, emphasizing it won't be able to be changed easily, as her party had wanted.

The Conservatives' Maria Miller, who serves as Britain's media and culture secretary, emphasized, though, that the agreement does not technically include the so-called "statutory," or legal, underpinning as demanded by Labour. "We've stopped Labour's extreme version of the press laws," she said. "What we're talking about here is that there can be no change to the charter in future."

A BBC report said that a compromise clause would require two-thirds majorities in both houses of parliament for changes to the press charter.?

The clause is expected to be closely looked at by three of the country's biggest newspaper groups, including News International, the owner of the Daily Mail, and the group behind the Telegraph. They have been strictly opposed to a statutory underpinning of a new press watchdog and threatened to launch their own alternative regulator if a final agreement uses such an underpinning.

The Guardian said they have held "active discussions" over the past week about launching their own press self-regulator, which would succeed the toothless Press Complaints Commission that the Leveson proposals mean to replace.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai