British newspapers reject press regulation proposals agreed by politicians

LONDON – British newspaper publishers including major players like Rupert Murdoch’s News International on Thursday rejected the government’s proposals for curbing media abuses, saying the plans for regulation would give politicians “an unacceptable degree of interference” in press freedom.

The Newspaper Society, which represents thousands of national and local publications, said the British press has put out its own plans for independent self-regulation to rival those agreed by politicians. The group said that unlike the government’s proposals, the industry version enjoys the support of all four trade associations and all national papers.

Dominic Mohan, the editor of The Sun tabloid — a popular Murdoch property — said his readers “expect journalists to behave responsibly, but don’t want them censored by a state-sponsored ‘Ministry of Truth.'”

The revolt was a blow to Prime Minister David Cameron, who closed a deal between all three major political parties after months of wrangling over how best to introduce tougher rules to police Britain’s media after the phone hacking scandal plunged the industry into crisis.

Revelations that journalists illegally tapped people’s phones and committed other crimes in pursuit of scoops have shut down Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid and ignited a heated debate about press ethics in Britain. While many wanted better media practices, some —not least those running newspapers — oppose any measures that could infringe on the independence of the country’s press.

Politicians said last month that an independent watchdog would be set up with powers to issue fines and demand apologies, but many newspapers complained they had no say in the final decision.

The alternative regulatory plans they proposed Thursday remove parliament’s power to block or approve future changes to media regulation. The industry version also removes a ban on former editors sitting on the panel of the regulating body.

News International chief executive Mike Darcey said the industry’s system “will mean that the press will not be at the mercy of the politicians that we are seeking to hold to account.”

But Hacked Off, a group that represented some phone hacking victims, criticized Thursday’s move as proof that most of the industry has learned no lessons from the scandal. The proposed self-regulation regime will only be an “industry poodle” that puts the interests of editors first, the group said.