Politics in U.K. Press Debate ; Cross-Party Group Asserts That New Laws Would Hurt Freedom of News Media

Article excerpt

A letter by more than 80 lawmakers is likely to stoke a furious debate within the divided political elite about the future of press controls, which are currently based on loose self-regulation.

On the eve of a major report into Britain's phone hacking scandal that editors and journalists fear could lead to statutory regulation of the press, a group of more than 80 British lawmakers on Wednesday opened a defense of press freedom, which they said would be undermined by new laws enforcing controls on newspapers.

"As parliamentarians, we believe in free speech and are opposed to the imposition of any form of statutory control even if it is dressed up as underpinning," a cross-party group of 86 legislators from both houses of Parliament said in a letter published in The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph.

The letter appeared hours before Prime Minister David Cameron received his personal copy of the report based on months of hearings conducted by Justice Brian Leveson after the hacking scandal that focused primarily on Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper subsidiary. The document is to be made public on Thursday and is likely to stoke a furious debate within the divided political elite about the future of press controls. They are now based on loose self-regulation that many lawmakers maintain has been ineffective, reinforced by some of the West's toughest libel laws.

The argument cuts across party lines, as did the lawmakers' letter, most of whose signers were from Mr. Cameron's Conservative Party, joined by Liberal Democrat figures and members of the opposition Labour Party. It followed an earlier statement by 42 Conservative lawmakers urging the drafting of new laws to control newspapers.

"This government set up Leveson because of unacceptable practices in parts of the media and because of a failed regulatory system," Mr. Cameron told Parliament on Wednesday, referring to the Leveson inquiry. …


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