Sheila Hollins, the mother of attacked woman Abigail
Witchalls, at a news conference as Britain's three main
political parties struck a compromise deal on a new
regulatory system for the country's newspapers.
Britain's main political parties agreed on Monday to
create a new system to regulate the news media, hoping to end
an era when tabloid newspapers trawled through people's mobile
phone messages to dredge up salacious stories.
Public outrage over phone hacking, which went beyond
celebrities to include victims of crime and abducted
children, pushed the government to act, but it said it had
done so in a way that still protected press freedom.
The compromise agreed by the three main parties and expected
to pass through parliament later on Monday, will establish a
new press regulator, introduce fines of up to 1 million
pounds and oblige newspapers to print prominent apologies
The system will be voluntary, but there will be strong
financial incentives to encourage newspapers to opt into it.
"I have today reached cross-party agreement on a royal
charter that will help deliver a new system of independent
and robust press regulation in our country," Prime Minister
David Cameron told parliament.
"It is right we put in place a new system of press regulation
to ensure that such appalling acts can never happen again."
The government came under pressure to create a new regulatory
system after The Guardian newspaper exposed phone hacking by
tabloid papers. The hacking of a murdered schoolgirl's phone
led to a judge-led inquiry which laid bare the scale of the
But concerns that a new system could imperil press freedom
delayed agreement, with some press barons threatening to
boycott a new regulatory regime and campaigners for tougher
regulation accusing Cameron of being in thrall to the press.
Monday's deal spares Cameron what was shaping up to be an
embarrassing political defeat in parliament that would have
deepened rifts in his coalition government.
The three parties had been divided over whether a new press
regulator should be enshrined in law and over how its members
would be chosen. But they reached a compromise after agreeing
to enact legislation to ensure the new system cannot be
easily altered later.
Cameron said he was satisfied with the outcome.
"It ... ensures that for generations to come government
ministers cannot interfere with this new system without
explicit and extensive support from both houses (of
parliament). That is an important step forward," he told
members of parliament.
"We stand here today with a cross-party agreement for a new
system of press regulation. It supports our great traditions
of investigative journalism and free speech. It protects the
rights of the vulnerable and the innocent."
Ed Miliband, the leader of the opposition Labour party, also
said the compromise struck the right balance.
"The regulator will be independent of the press. Secondly, it
is a regulator with teeth. This is a system that will
endure," he told parliament.
The new system "commands the confidence of the victims and
allows the press to hold the powerful to account without
abusing its own power," he said.
Others were less happy.
The official in charge of media freedom at the 57-nation
Organisation for Security and Cooperation said the criminal
activities of some journalists "should not be used as an
excuse to rein in all print media".
"A government-established regulatory body, regardless of how
independent it is intended to be, could pose a threat to
media freedom," said Dunja Mijatovic at the Vienna-based
Index on Censorship, a group that campaigns for free speech,
said it was a "sad day for press freedom in the UK".
"The involvement of politicians undermines the fundamental
principle that the press holds politicians to account," said
Kirsty Hughes, its CEO.
"Politicians have now stepped in as ringmaster and our
democracy is tarnished as a result."
Hacked Off, a group representing the victims of newspaper
behaviour, welcomed the deal however.
"This agreement among the three parties delivers a charter
and a self-regulation system that will protect the public and
protect freedom of speech at the same time. So I'm
optimistic," Brian Cathcart, the group's executive director,
Separately on Monday, in the latest round of civil claims
brought by the victims, a member of parliament accepted "very
substantial" damages from Rupert Murdoch's The Sun newspaper
after its employees accessed her stolen mobile phone.
Cameron ordered the inquiry into newspapers' behaviour after
Murdoch's now-defunct News of the World admitted widespread
hacking into phone messages to generate salacious stories.
Police investigating the scandal arrested four current and
former journalists from the rival Mirror Group Newspapers
last week. Tens of people from Murdoch's tabloids have been
arrested for hacking voice messages and for conspiring to
make payments to public officials.
The examination of media tactics revealed the close
relationships between Britain's media bosses and Cameron,
embarrassing the prime minister by publishing friendly text
messages that called his judgment into question.