Hugh Grant warns ministers against press 'betrayal'

Hugh Grant: Ministers "in hock" to the newspaper barons

Actor Hugh Grant has said any "further compromise" by ministers over press regulation would be a "betrayal of the promises" made to media abuse victims.

He said the government was "terrified of the press" and was doing all it could "to oblige the press barons".

On Tuesday Culture Secretary Maria Miller said newspapers' proposals for regulation had been rejected.

But she suggested the government was willing to consider some of the ideas put forward by publishers.

Mr Grant, a member of the Hacked Off campaign, accused senior Tories of an "abuse of democracy" by trying to "sabotage" plans for a royal charter agreed by all parties in Parliament.

The report of the Leveson Inquiry into press standards recommended a tougher form of self-regulation backed by legislation, and Mr Grant said any suggestion such a system would limit free speech was "propaganda on the part of the press".

He said some of the main newspaper groups "refuse to accept any system which would make them accountable for any of their actions".

Start Quote

What we don't want to have is a statutory body because that is essentially the end of 300 years of a free press”

End Quote Roger Alton The Times

Mr Grant said Lord Leveson had made "very mild" recommendations but the press was determined to "mark its own homework".

He said victims of press abuse, such as the families of Madeleine McCann and Milly Dowler, had been told by David Cameron that new rules would protect people from the press.

"Any further compromise would be a betrayal of the promises made by the secretary of state and above all by the prime minister to them," Mr Grant added.

Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, said Ms Miller was simply talking about "tidying up" press regulation plans.

He said the minister agreed with Lord Leveson that a regulation system forced on the press without its consent would be "unworkable".

On Tuesday Ms Miller announced that the Privy Council - an ancient body which advises the Queen, mostly made up of senior politicians - had rejected press proposals for a royal charter.

She referred to principles in the Leveson report such as independence and access to arbitration and said an alternative plan would now be "improved", adding that ministers were said to be willing to consider some of the industry's ideas.

Changes will now be made to the alternative plan backed by politicians and campaigners, and the Privy Council's decision is expected on 30 October.

60 seconds catch up: Press regulation where are we now?

Meanwhile, Times editor John Witherow has said the newspaper and magazine industry still intended to "go ahead and set up a self-regulation body".

In July, the industry set out a draft constitution for an Independent Press Standards Organisation which included plans for a whistleblowers' hotline for journalists and a standards and compliance arm "with investigative powers to call editors to account".

"Whether we put it up for recognition is something we can deal with further down the road but we intend to apply the criteria we put out in our royal charter for the self-regulation," Mr Witherow told BBC Radio 4's The Media Show.

"We may well see if we set this up, when we set it up, that it works effectively and the political parties might change their mind."

'Bridgeable gap'

Mr Witherow said the government's plans for the royal charter to have the potential to be amended by Parliament - but only if there was a two-thirds majority in both houses - was "a fundamental stumbling block" to agreement between the political parties and the press.

Start Quote

My sense is that the politicians are willing to amend some of the things that the press found problematic in the original charter”

End Quote Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger

"Via this version, if we want to make any changes to this regulation we have to go back to Parliament and it requires a two-thirds majority in both houses of Parliament to make those changes.

"So you can imagine the time it would take to do that and even getting a two-thirds majority is such a mountain to climb, it's almost inconceivable how it could be achieved."

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, meanwhile, said there was a "bridgeable" gap between the political parties and newspapers on regulation which "could probably be done in a day".

"My sense is that the politicians are willing to amend some of the things that the press found problematic in the original charter," he told Radio 4's The World at One.

Options for the self-regulation of the press were proposed in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry, set up in July 2011 after it emerged journalists working for the now-closed News of the World had hacked into the mobile phone of murdered Surrey schoolgirl Milly Dowler.

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New press regulator: Proposals compared
UK newspapers

Political involvement:

  • Government: Royal Charter could be amended by Parliament, but only if there were a two-thirds majority in both houses
  • Newspapers: Parliament could not block or approve any future changes to regulation. Instead the regulator, trade bodies and the regulator's panel would have to agree to changes

"Recognition" panel:

  • Government: Former editors would be banned from serving on the "recognition panel", which would decide whether newspapers were being regulated properly
  • Newspapers: Former editors would be allowed to serve and there would be a requirement for at least one member to have newspaper industry experience

Appointments process:

  • Government: Appointments committee to consist of four members, none of whom could be a serving editor or MP
  • Newspapers: Want one of the four members to "represent the interests of relevant publishers"

Corrections and apologies:

  • Government: Regulator to have the power to demand prominent corrections and apologies from publishers and impose £1m fines. Regulator board would "direct" the nature, extent and placement of corrections
  • Newspapers: Regulator to have the power to ensure "up-front corrections, with inaccuracies corrected fully and prominently" and to impose £1m fines for "systematic wrongdoing". However, the board would "require" rather than "direct" in relation to apologies

Arbitration:

  • Government: A free arbitration service would be provided for victims and a fast complaints system would be established to ensure all individuals could afford to pursue action against publishers
  • Newspapers: An arbitration service would offer "a speedy and inexpensive alternative to the libel courts, subject to the successful conclusion of a pilot scheme". However, papers are concerned a free service would lead to a surge of claims for damages
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