Plymouth MPs back new regulation of the press
PLYMOUTH MPs have backed moves which critics argue heralds the end of more than 300 years of a free press.
The city’s parliamentarians voted in favour of measures which could see judges award punitive damages against publications which refuse to sign up to a new watchdog.
The proposed legislation, recommended by Lord Justice Leveson in his report on press standards, is intended as an incentive for publishers to co-operate with the new regulator, established by royal charter.
The new regulatory regime will replace the current system, under which the press is self-regulated voluntarily through the Press Complaints Commission.
The deal, thrashed out by David Cameron, Labour leader Ed Miliband and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, follows Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry into press ethics, held in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.
Party leaders said the new independent regulator – with powers to demand up-front apologies from UK publishers and impose £1 million fines – would protect victims of press intrusion and preserve press freedom.
With the leadership of the three main parties signed up to the plan, the exemplary damages provision was passed by 530 votes to 13, majority 517.
Those supporting it included Tory MPs Oliver Colvile for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, Sheryll Murray for South East Cornwall and Gary Streeter for South West Devon. Labour MP for Plymouth Moor View Alison Seabeck also voted in favour.
A separate piece of legislation means the charter outlining the regulator’s powers can only be changed with a two-thirds majority in both houses of Parliament.
The charter itself does not require parliamentary approval.
But there is disquiet over the plans backed by legislation, which have been criticised as marking the end of more than 300 years of a free press.
The Prime Minister insisted that the scheme did not “cross the Rubicon” of introducing a press law.
But he conceded that two “relatively small legislative changes” would be driven through as part of the press reforms.
The Newspaper Society, representing local papers, said the proposals agreed by the three parties would place “a crippling burden on the UK’s 1,100 local newspapers, inhibiting freedom of speech and the freedom to publish”.
NS president Adrian Jeakings said Lord Justice Leveson had found the phone-hacking scandal was nothing to do with local media, but the three parties had completely ignored his call for safeguards to protect regional and local newspapers.
“Local newspapers remain fiercely opposed to any form of statutory involvement or underpinning in the regulation of the press. A free press cannot be free if it is dependent on and accountable to a regulatory body recognised by the state,” he said.
Mr Cameron said: “I’m confident that we’ve set up a system that is practical, that is workable, it protects the freedom of the press, but it’s a good, strong self-regulatory system for victims, and I’m convinced it will work and it will endure.”