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MENAFN - Arab News - 01/12/2012

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(MENAFN - Arab News) British lawmakers started work yesterday on a draft law to regulate the nation's unruly newspapers as proposed by a major press inquiry, despite Prime Minister David Cameron's strong objection to the legislation.

Cameron's government is divided on the future of the press after the Liberal Democrats, the junior partners in his Conservative-led coalition, said they would join forces with the opposition Labor Party and support a new law.

The rift was sparked by Thursday's publication of a report by judge Brian Leveson which, in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch's News of the World, proposed a new independent self-regulatory body backed by law.

Cameron warned immediately that he believes legislation could threaten press freedom - while his deputy Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, insisted it was essential to guarantee the independence of the new watchdog.

The prime minister said he accepted the vast majority of Leveson's proposals, which follow a year-long inquiry that heard from journalists, politicians and victims of press intrusion, but said a new law would put Britain on a slippery slope.

"I have some serious concerns and misgivings on this recommendation," he told Parliament on Thursday.

"We will have crossed the Rubicon of writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land... We should think very, very carefully before crossing this line."

Actor Hugh Grant joined other victims of media intrusion in blasting Cameron for rejecting a state-backed watchdog despite his earlier pledge to do whatever Leveson proposed as long as it was not "bonkers".

"It wasn't and he didn't," Grant tweeted.

The British press currently regulates itself through the Press Complaints Commission, a body staffed by editors.

Its critics say it is toothless and partly responsible for Britain's failure to punish journalists for harassment, invasion of privacy and the hacking of voicemail messages.

Leveson proposed a beefed-up watchdog staffed by independent members, with the power to fine newspapers up to 1 million ( 1.6 million, 1.23 million euros).


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