British newspapers to seek judicial review of tougher regulation

LONDON (Reuters) – A newspaper industry group will go to court on Friday to seek a judicial review of plans by the British government for tougher press regulation following a string of high-profile scandals.

Last November, senior judge Brian Leveson concluded a year-long public inquiry into press ethics with a 1,987-page report denouncing some newspaper tactics and calling for an industry watchdog, enshrined in law, to regulate journalists’ behavior.

Earlier this month the three main political parties reached a deal after months of fraught debate, announcing a new set of rules to regulate the often rough-and-tumble press.

The government said the parties had agreed a system to be enshrined under a Royal Charter setting out a code of practice to editors, with an arbitration system to deal with complaints.

Some proposals were amended in response to press lobbying, including one that would require those wishing to complain about the media to pay a small fee, and another that would allow editors to play a greater role on the regulatory committee.

But the newspaper industry remained concerned that the current package could curtail press freedom, and so decided to ask for judges to check the legal basis of the decision to reject their own counter-proposal.

The Press Standards Board of Finance, which funds the current system, blamed the government for their decision to launch a legal challenge, saying it should have done more to protect press freedom in its new proposals.

“They singularly failed to do so, and that is why – as the issues at stake are so extraordinarily high – we are having to take this course of action,” Chairman Guy Black said in a statement on Thursday.

The group will apply for a judicial review at London’s High Court on Friday. This could delay implementation of the new rules despite opposition from high-profile celebrity victims and members of the public who have fallen foul of press abuse.

Hacked Off, a group set up on behalf of those who feel mistreated by the press, faulted Thursday’s decision, accusing parts of the newspaper industry of being “desperate and deaf”.

In a statement, the government defended its proposals, arguing they struck the right balance press freedom and safeguards for victims.

(Reporting by Costas Pitas; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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