Newspaper bosses must meet Lord Justice Leveson's demands for new regulation within days as the "clock is ticking" on reforms, David Cameron said on Tuesday. The UK prime minister said the newspaper industry must come up with a timetable for change within two days and publish plans before Christmas if it wants to avoid legislation to keep the press in check.
He summoned editors to a meeting at Downing Street No 10 after Lord Justice Leveson recommended a new press watchdog backed by laws. Following the meeting, Cameron said the group must "produce a tough, independent regulatory system rapidly" to overhaul the industry after the phone-hacking scandal and other press abuses.
"They've got to do it in a way that absolutely meets the requirement of Lord Justice Leveson's report," he said, adding that, "That means million-pound fines, proper investigation of complaints, prominent apologies, a tough, independent regulatory system." The meeting was hosted by Maria Miller, the culture and media secretary, who said editors had "responded positively".
"There was unanimous agreement that what we need now is for the press to go forward with developing a tough, independent, self-regulatory body," she said.
"The challenge has been thrown down to them, they've responded positively and it's now for them to go away and develop those plans."
She reminded the editors that an initial set of proposals put forward by Lord Hunt of Wirral, the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, and Lord Black of Brentwood, the chairman of the Press Standards Board of Finance, would not be sufficient. Speaking in the Commons last night, Miller said the government had not ruled out new regulation under law if editors did not come up with a tough new system.
Sarah Sands, the editor of London's Evening Standard, said those at the meeting understood the urgency of the situation. "Newspaper editors, who are going to meet again tomorrow, are going to try and work out something which is true to the spirit and a lot of the letter of Leveson," she told BBC Radio4's The World At One. "We are talking about a couple of weeks to try to come up with a solution that really satisfies everybody."
Lord Black, who is also executive director of Telegraph Media Group, the publisher of The Daily Telegraph, said the Leveson Report would "change the face of our industry forever". "The industry must remain united as we seek to implement the Leveson Report and put in place a new tough system of regulation which is fit for the future and which above all else will make the need for statute irrelevant," he said.
If the prime minister can get agreement from all newspaper editors, he may avoid having to bring in a new watchdog backed by legislation. Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, and Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, back Lord Justice Leveson's recommendation of new press laws. Cameron still hopes to persuade the other leaders that new legislation is not needed. The three main political parties are split over regulation. About 40 Conservative MPs are pushing for new laws, while more than 40 are fighting against any restrictions to freedom of the press.