Papers not excluded from Leveson talks, Nick Clegg says

Nick Clegg
Image caption Mr Clegg also dismissed criticism of the proposals as a threat to press freedom

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has denied that newspapers were excluded from key talks on a new press regulation regime.

Mr Clegg said the late-night talks in which the three main parties finally agreed a deal were only considering one technical legal issue.

"There have been a huge number of meetings with the press," he said.

Newspapers have objected to the fact members of the press reform campaign group Hacked Off were present.

All the main elements of the deal were already in place before the talks on Sunday night in Labour leader Ed Miliband's Commons office, Mr Clegg said.

Present at the meeting were Mr Miliband, his deputy Harriet Harman, Mr Clegg, Oliver Letwin for the Conservatives and Evan Harris of Hacked Off with three other pressure group members.

"The last meeting on that Sunday night only dealt with one tiny, tiny, tiny bit of the whole jigsaw, which is how you define something called 'exemplary damages'. All the rest of it was already agreed," Mr Clegg said on his weekly radio phone-in on LBC 97.3.

"If this was the great papal conclave where everything was resolved from top to bottom, then of course everybody should be there - or frankly nobody should be there, neither the press nor Hacked Off."

'Contentious issues'

On Tuesday, the Mail and Telegraph groups, Northern and Shell, News International, the Newspaper Society and the Professional Publishers Association issued a joint statement complaining that the industry had not been represented in the talks.

It said early drafts of the charter had contained "several deeply contentious issues" which had not been "resolved with the industry".

They said they were seeking legal advice on whether to accept the proposals.

The Sun and others have previously said they would accept everything recommended by Lord Justice Leveson - except statutory legislation.

But BBC political editor Nick Robinson said the press had been informed over the days and months of wrangling, with key players being Telegraph's Lord Black, Associated Newspapers' Peter Wright, the editor of the Times John Witherow and the editor of the Financial Times Lionel Barber.

Mr Clegg also dismissed criticism of the proposals as a threat to press freedom.

"I think people have reacted in some senses in a slightly melodramatic fashion to this. The model of Leveson which is what we are absolutely sticking to is self-regulation of the press," he said.

"I know the kind of caricature - this is something which is being imposed in a deeply illiberal way on the press. I don't think, if you look at it fairly, that is the case."

The new regulatory regime will replace the current system, under which the press is self-regulated voluntarily through the Press Complaints Commission.

The deal follows Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry into press ethics - called in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.

The inquiry found that journalists had hacked thousands of phones, and called for a new independent press watchdog, backed by legislation.