British PM meet newspaper editors, owners next week

Posted at 12/02/12 3:48 PM

LONDON - British Prime Minister David Cameron will meet editors and owners of national newspapers next week to seek their response to an inquiry into press ethics, a government spokesman said Saturday.

Cameron will press for a timeframe for the establishment of a new press watchdog following proposals set out by judge Brian Leveson in a major report published on Thursday, said a culture ministry spokesman.

The meeting, on Tuesday, will be hosted by culture minister Maria Miller.

Miller would appeal to the powerful group not to "drag its feet" in implementing the new regulator, said the spokesman. Cameron hopes the new body will help quash claims that a new law is needed to make it truly effective.

The main agenda will be trying to "set a timeframe for a response" from the newspaper industry to Leveson's recommendation for independent self-regulation of the press, the spokesman added.

Parliament will debate the issue on Monday afternoon, when Miller will make a statement to fellow lawmakers, the spokesman added.

Cameron's government is divided on the future of the press. The Liberal Democrats, junior partners in the Conservative-led coalition, said they would join forces with the opposition Labour party and support a new law.

The rift was sparked by the publication of Leveson's report which, in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch's News of the World, proposed a new independent self-regulatory body backed by law.

Leveson proposes a beefed-up watchdog staffed by independent members, with the power to fine newspapers up to £1 million ($1.6 million, 1.23 million euros).

While Cameron warned that legislation could threaten press freedom, his deputy Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, insisted statutory oversight was essential to guarantee the independence of the new watchdog.

"Hacked Off", a campaign group for victims of press intrusion, says over 67,000 people have signed its online petition calling on Cameron, Clegg and opposition leader Ed Miliband to work together to implement the findings of the Leveson report in full.

© 1994-2012 Agence France-Presse