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Newspapers condemn reform proposals
The newspaper industry has criticised the latest proposals for a new system of press regulation, saying they could not be described as either "voluntary or independent".
The three main political parties finally struck a deal on amendments to the planned royal charter establishing the new system intended to address some of the industry concerns.
Culture Secretary Maria Miller said that she hoped they would be accepted by the industry, bringing an end to 11 months of wrangling since the publication of the Leveson report on press standards.
But the industry steering group, representing national, regional and local newspapers, made clear that while it would consider the proposals it still had deep reservations.
"This remains a charter written by politicians, imposed by politicians and controlled by politicians. It has not been approved by any of the newspapers or magazines it seeks to regulate," it said.
"Meanwhile the industry's charter was rejected by eight politicians, meeting in secret, and chaired by the same politician who is promoting the politicians' charter.
"Lord Justice Leveson called for 'voluntary, independent self-regulation' of the press. It is impossible to see how a regulator operating under rules imposed by politicians, and enforced by draconian and discriminatory provisions for damages and costs in civil cases, could be said to be either voluntary or independent."
The latest deal was struck at talks between Mrs Miller, Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman and senior Liberal Democrat peer Lord Wallace of Tankerness and will now go forward to the Privy Council for final agreement on October 30.
The changes include provision for a fee for use of a new arbitration service, intended to deter speculative claims, with the option for regional and local newspapers to opt out altogether following a trial period.
They also agreed that serving editors can be involved in drawing up a new code of conduct for the press, to be approved by the independent regulator.
The new version supersedes the text controversially agreed by the parties at a late-night meeting over pizzas in Ed Miliband's office in Westminster on March 18 in the presence of lobby group Hacked Off.
Mr Miller told the BBC Radio 4 PM programme: "We have made really important changes which I think will make this charter work much better, safeguarding the freedom of the press and also importantly helping safeguard the future of our local press which so many of us value so much. We want to make sure that this works for the long-term."
Mrs Miller did not rule out the prospect of further changes, if they could be agreed by the political parties.
"I am very clear that we have published a final draft today but if there are things that come forward which all three parties feel merit attention, then of course we'll be looking at that," she said.
However, she said they stood by the provision that once the charter had been agreed, it could be amended with the agreement of a two-thirds majority in both Houses of Parliament, saying it provided an important safeguard for the press.
"Without that lock it would actually be that a very small group of ministers without any debate at all could make changes to this charter. That's not something that I think is right. We need to make sure that this charter is put beyond politicians of any government, either now or in the future," she said.
However Chris Blackhurst, the group content director of The Independent and its sister titles, said there were concerns within the industry that it did not provide sufficient protection against further interference by politicians in the future.
"We saw last week the way all the parties were united condemning the Daily Mail over Ralph Miliband and there is a feeling at large that it is possible that you could get two-thirds, so you could have politicians in the future re-writing this charter and for many in our industry that simply isn't on," he told the PM programme.
He warned that it may prove impossible to get agreement on a single regulatory system which all the newspapers were prepared to sign up to.
"It has really turned into a politicians versus the press battle now. I wish I knew where it would end. I hope we don't end up in a situation where we end up with an array of regulators. That would be completely baffling. It is not fair on the public. It was never the intention that this should happen," he said.
The Hacked Off lobby group, which has led the campaign for tighter press regulation, said that with the latest concessions to the industry there was no longer any reason for newspapers not to sign up.
"The way is now open to create a system of independent, effective press self-regulation that will benefit the public and poses no threat whatever to freedom of expression," said the group's executive director Brian Cathcart.
"Ordinary people will have far better redress when things go wrong, and the charter will also benefit the industry, giving it a chance to rebuild trust and show its commitment to high standards.
"Victims of press abuse now look to the industry to embrace that opportunity and put behind them a shocking period in which, in the words of Lord Justice Leveson, some sections of the press all too often wreaked havoc in the lives of innocent people."
Ms Harman warned the press not to try to "boycott" the new proposals.
"The charter meets the principles set out by Lord Justice Leveson which were unanimously supported in Parliament," she said.
"I hope that the press will engage with this new system of independent self-regulation. We must have no press boycott.
"We need a press which is robust and free which holds those in power to account but which does not wreak havoc on the lives of innocent people."
However John Whittingdale, the chariman of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said that, even with the threat of exemplary damages for newspapers that did not sign up if they are involved legal action, it was unlikely that most would be willing to join.
"There is no point in Parliament constructing a new system if nobody joins it," he told BBC News. "Today's announcement may go some way to meeting the objections of some newspapers but I don't think it is likely to be sufficient to command support across the newspaper industry."
Bob Satchwell, the executive director of the Society of Editors, told the BBC: "You can't expect anybody to take on board something which is put upon them by politicians."
He added: "What editors are concerned about certainly is that you can't have even the smallest loophole which will allow for the future when there is another great row between politicians and the press for the politicians to bring in some really draconian system of licensing of newspapers."