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UK Press Regulation: Is it Groundhog Day at the Last Chance Saloon?

The British press is used to drinking in the Last Chance Saloon, and closing time has just been postponed once again.

It came as no surprise to anyone that the government rejected the industry's own proposed voluntary regulation scheme, branded by opponents as a "no regulation" scheme.

Nor was it unexpected that plans to put "final" proposals to the Privy Council this week have now been delayed till the end of the month.

After all the row sparked by the phone hacking scandal, led to the closure of the News of the World and was brought to a head by the Leveson inquiry, has been running for months and still there is no end in sight.

Since Leveson reported a year ago there have been claims it has had a "chilling effect" on newspapers. But, most recently, there has also been the bitter row between Labour leader Ed Miliband and the Daily Mail which he accused of "lying" by describing his father, Ralph, as a man who hated Britain.

So both sides claim the evidence backs their case either for or against tough rules covering newspapers. What is crystal clear is that voters want action to stop the papers' worst excesses and, led by groups including Hacked Off, want it now.

And those emotions were again running high in the Commons when Culture and Media Secretary Maria Miller attempted to reassure MPs that the decision to postpone yet another last chance would not mean the entire issue would disappear over the horizon.

She said she would table fresh cross-party proposals on Friday after some amendments to existing plans to take account of press concerns, and she said she was determined the new deadline for final agreement by 30 October would be final.

"I have every intention of moving forward on the timetable I have outlined," she said.

But the road to press reform is paved with good intentions and her statement did nothing to ease fears on both sides of the argument that agreement is as far away as ever.

Shadow spokesman Harriet Harman said Labour regretted the delay and urged the government to "get it sealed".

Labour's Chris Bryant claimed it was Groundhog Day, declaring: "You dragged us to this House in March....have you run out of quills or sealing wax or something. Do what the public want. If you default on this time-table the House should take the matter into its own hands."

Labour's Kate Hooey hinted at the possible effects the Miliband row with the Mail may has had, saying whatever the outcome was it must not "stop newspapers saying things people don't like" and warned there was a slippery slope to state regulation ahead.

Miller rejected that notion and repeated her assurance that it would be sorted out by the end of the month.

She is, without doubt, an optimist. There are continuing fears that the press, having seen their own proposals for self-regulation rejected will simply reject the politicians' proposals.

And that could see the Last Chance Saloon staying open all hours.
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Publication:International Business Times - US ed.
Date:Oct 8, 2013
Words:508
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