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Industry bosses back PM in press law showdown

Industry leaders today delivered a strong message of support for Prime Minister David Cameron after he refused to cave in to demands for statutory press regulation.

MPs are to be asked to vote on whether a new press regulator should be underpinned by statute in a Commons showdown on Monday after talks between the three party leaders on the issue broke down.

Mr Cameron has put forward proposals for a Royal Charter to oversee the new regulator, without the need for statute, but Labour leader Ed Miliband and the Lib Dems’ Nick Clegg continued to press for legislation.

Now 10 Downing Street has confirmed that the issue will be put to a Commons vote on Monday.

Lord Justice Leveson recommended new laws to underpin a press regulator last year in his report on press ethics, set up after the phone-hacking scandal.

However Mr Cameron has made clear from the start his opposition to statutory regulation, and is now said to have told the other two leaders they were “trying to push him beyond a position he was comfortable with and beyond something the press would sign up to.”

Labour, which has been calling for the Leveson report to be implemented in full, described the Prime Minister’s decision as “very disappointing” and urged him to think again.

But a group of industry leaders, including the Newspaper Society director David Newell, have issued a statement declaring their backing for the PM’s stance.

It said:  “We share the Prime Minister’s frustration at the way in which talks about the future of press regulation have broken down and legislation has been hijacked.

“The Prime Minister is right to reject statutory regulation of the press – free of political control for 300 years – as fundamentally wrong in principle and unworkable in practice.

“The industry has spent many weeks in negotiating a new independent system of self regulation, based on the Leveson principles, which provides £1m fines and the toughest system of regulation in the western world.

“We have made major concessions in order to reach agreement, although there are elements of the proposed reforms – such as exemplary damages – to which we remain opposed.  However, this need not stop a new regulator being put in place.

“We agree with the Prime Minister that matters cannot be allowed to drift on and that we need now to deliver real change.

“The UK’s newspaper and magazine publishing industry will rise to the challenge. We are ready to move with speed to establish a new system of tough, independent, effective self regulation which delivers fully on the Leveson principles and will provide real protection for members of the public. We will aim to get the new regulator up and running as soon as possible. ”

Signatories include representatives of the Daily Mail Group, News International, the Telegraph Media Group and Richard Desmond’s Northern and Shell group, which owns the Daily Express.

The statement was also endorsed by Guy Black, chairman of the Press Standards Board of Finance, Tim Blott, chairman of the Scottish Newspaper Society, and Barry McIlheney of the Professional Publishers’ Association.

In a separate statement, Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, said it was important that “high politics” are not allowed to continue to interfere with press regulation.

He said:  “There are issues with principles and practicalities of legislation and editors have a right to be concerned about where politics and a ‘dab of statute’ might take us years down the line as attempts to hijack important legislation on other matters have shown.

“It is important that it is recognised that while frustration has been voiced in some quarters as to a perceived lack of speed in establishing a new system of tough, independent and effective self regulation,  the industry is continuing to work hard to form a new body that not only abides by the principles Leveson outlined, but one that ensures that the rights of the public are properly protected.

“This system will not just concern the popular press. It will incorporate all the national newspapers, most of which have nothing to be ashamed of, and 1200 plus regional and local newspapers and hundreds of magazines. It has got to be one that is workable on all of these platforms.”

Earlier the NS said:  “The Leveson Inquiry report found that the local media sector had nothing to do with the phone hacking scandal and that the new regulatory model should not be an added burden to the regional and local press.

“The report also called on the Government to look urgently at what action it might take to help safeguard the ongoing viability of what it rightly described as a valued and important part of the British press. The industry awaits a response to these findings.

“The regional and local press has always been opposed to any form of statutory regulation of the press which would impose an unacceptable regulatory burden on the industry, potentially inhibiting freedom of speech and the freedom to publish.

“Britain’s 1100 regional and local newspapers and their 31 million readers are central to the future system of press regulation and will play their full part in its future development.”