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CORRECTED: British newspapers release rival press watchdog plans

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

British newspapers on Thursday rejected a proposed new state-backed press watchdog and published their own plans for self-regulation in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch's News of the World.

The three main political parties struck a deal in March for a beefed-up regulatory system underpinned by law, which they said was needed to rein in the excesses of Britain's famously raucous tabloid press.

But the newspaper industry on Thursday announced that it would apply for its own system without any state involvement, saying that the government proposal to set up a regulator by a so-called royal charter threatened press freedom.

"A number of its recommendations are unworkable and it gives politicians an unacceptable degree of interference in the regulation of the press," said a statement coordinated by the Newspaper Society, the industry body.

The rival regulatory plan proposes fines of up to £1 million ($1.5 million, 1.2 million euros) and prominent corrections, just as the government scheme does.

But it demands more public consultation to allow newspapers and magazines to have their say on the terms of the royal charter.

It also opposes any legal underpinning of the regulator.

The government proposal, announced by Prime Minister David Cameron in March after intense cross-party negotiations, was to create a new press watchdog under a royal charter, a special document used to establish organisations such as the Bank of England and the BBC.

The statutory element is that the charter itself would be protected by a separate law stating that all charters passed after March 1, 2013 could only be modified by a two-thirds parliamentary majority.

Newspapers and free speech advocates say that any attachment to law would chill free speech.

The government's plan for a watchdog came after a judge-led inquiry into the ethics of the British press recommended a new regulatory system backed by law.

Judge Brian Leveson concluded in his final report last year that British newspapers had "wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people".

Cameron commissioned the inquiry in July 2011 following revelations that the News of the World tabloid had illegally accessed the voicemails of a murdered teenage girl as well as hundreds of crime victims and public figures.

Dozens of people including Cameron's former media chief Andy Coulson have been arrested in police probes into phone-hacking and the payment of public officials for stories.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130425/corrected-british-newspapers-release-rival-press-watchdog-plans