READ ALL ABOUT IT: A bleak chapter in British newspaper history looks to be reaching an end after Britain’s three main political parties agreed in an 11th hour deal to set up an independent press regulator, rather than back a law that would potentially muzzle the press. The deal comes after the phone-hacking scandal that rocked the newspaper industry, and Rupert Murdoch’s News International in particular.
Had Monday’s deal not been reached, there was the risk that press regulation would be enshrined in a law, allowing future governments and politicians to curb newspapers’ liberties — and in particular their freedom to investigate stories. Instead, the new and independent press regulator will be created through what is known as a royal charter, a formal document granted by Queen Elizabeth.
This story first appeared in the March 19, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“What we wanted to avoid, and we have avoided, is a press law,” British Prime Minister David Cameron told the BBC on Monday.
“Nowhere will it say…what the press can and can’t do. That, quite rightly, is being kept out of Parliament. [It is a] safeguard that says politicians can’t in future fiddle with this arrangement.”
Over the weekend, as the debates were still raging as to whether press regulation should become a press law, London mayor Boris Johnson wrote an article in The Telegraph online defending the press — including that which dwells in the gutter.
“Of course, not every businessperson or investor may personally relish the exuberance and ferocity of the British media,” he wrote. “They may not enjoy reading about their salaries, yachts and subterranean swimming pools. But they also know — or should rationally accept — that it is the very boldness of the British press, and its refusal to be bullied or cowed, that makes those deals risk-free and helps them create the wealth they enjoy. Like any strong detergent, the work of the British media may cause a certain smarting of the eyes. But if you want to keep clean the gutters of public life, you need a gutter press.”