After months of wrangling and dispute,and centuries of rambunctious freedom,lawmakers on Monday said Britains three main political parties had struck a compromise deal on new measures to regulate the press,the most significant step toward stricter curbs since the phone-hacking scandal convulsed Rupert Murdochs media outpost here and much of British public life.
But the disagreements and nuances that preceded the agreement almost immediately carried over into fresh arguments over how the various political groups wished to present it to the public,particularly on the contentious issue of whether new regulation should be underpinned by legislation.
Statutory underpinning was a key recommendation of a voluminous report published last November after months of exhaustive testimony into the behaviour and culture of press at an inquiry by Lord Justice Sir Brian Leveson.
The term raised alarms among those cherishing three centuries of broad peacetime freedom for Britains newspapers. Cameron said a law establishing a press watchdog would cross a rubicon toward government controls.
Instead,Cameron proposed a royal charter a device setting out the rules and responsibilities of major institutions such as the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Bank of England. But the opposition Labour party,supported by Camerons own junior coalition partner,the Liberal Democrats,wanted statutory underpinning enshrined in law to shield victims of press intrusion against abuse.
As the first to announce the deal,Harriet Harman,the deputy Labour leader,said agreement had been struck to introduce a royal charter,supported by a bit of law that says this charter cant be tampered with by ministers and could only be changed by a two-thirds majority in both houses of Parliament.
Cameron insisted that the formulation did not amount to direct legislation governing the press.
Its not underpinning, he said. What it is is simply a clause that says politicians cant fiddle with this so it takes it further away from politicians,which is actually,I think,a sensible step. He added: What we have avoided is a press law.
Ed Miliband,Labour leader,said: A free press has nothing to fear from what is agreed.