U.K. Press Regulation Talks Break Down, Parliament to Vote on Proposal Next Week

David Cameron - The Prime Minister Leaves Downing Street - 2011
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Prime minister David Cameron proposes a "royal charter" for a self-regulatory body as envisioned by the Leveson Report, but others push for detailed legislation.

British Prime Minister David Cameron in a hastily convened press conference on Thursday said he would submit a proposal for a so-called "Royal Charter" for press regulation to parliament for a late Monday vote after all-party talks about how to put in place the suggestions of last year's Leveson Inquiry report broke down.

The charter would create a self-regulatory body that would address allegations of press misconduct, hand out fines worth millions of pounds and provide "the toughest press regulation this country has seen," he said. It would "deliver all the fundamental principles that Leveson set out and have been accepted by the industry," he added.

But he once again emphasized that his proposal would not back calls for statutory press regulation, meaning a regulatory system based on detailed legislation.

Cameron argued that his proposal would ensure continued freedom of an independent press, while detailed legislation would provide "real dangers," wouldn't be workable and not practical. "It crosses the Rubicon," he said. Cameron's stance to ignore calls for statutory regulation goes directly against forceful campaigning from Hacked Off, the lobby group for press reform fronted by Hugh Grant.

The news came as British authorities said they have made four arrests over alleged phone hacking at the Daily Mirror's Sunday Mirror. The hacking cases date back to 2003 and 2004 and are the latest sign that hacking didn't only happen at Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. The hacking scandal at News Corp.'s shuttered News of the World kicked off the review of press regulation by judge Brian Leveson.

With differing views across the political spectrum on press regulation, Cameron said Thursday that he decided to put his proposal on the table to avoid wasting time and forcing parliamentarians to take a clear stance. The vote next week risks a divide between Cameron's Conservative Party and its coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats. The latter may join the opposition Labour Party in the vote. 

The royal charter approach would be similar to the underpinnings of the BBC.

Asked if this approach meant he had sided with the press over victims of media abuse, he said there was "no use proposing something that the press wouldn't accept, and the charter would provide "justice for victims and public confidence."

About the Mirror hacking arrests, Scotland Yard said in a statement: "Detectives on Operation Weeting have identified and are investigating a suspected conspiracy to intercept telephone voicemails at Mirror Group Newspapers. This conspiracy is being treated as a separate conspiracy to the two being investigated at the now defunct News of the World newspaper. It is believed it mainly concerned the Sunday Mirror newspaper and, at this stage, the primary focus is on the years 2003 and 2004."

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai