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Rowling to UK government: Don't let down hacking victims
By JILL LAWLESS , Associated Press

LONDON (AP) -- Celebrities including J.K. Rowling and Hugh Grant accused the British government on Sunday of letting down the victims of media intrusion, and urged tough new measures to rein in Britain's unruly press.

Lawmakers are to vote Monday on rival plans for tougher controls in the wake of the country's phone-hacking scandal.

Bing: More on the phone-hacking scandal

The Conservative-led government says it will propose a new press watchdog with the power to levy fines of up to $1.5 million. But hacking victims say the regulator must be backed by a new law to give it real teeth, something Prime Minister David Cameron opposes.

"Harry Potter" author Rowling -- who testified previously to a media ethics inquiry about the impact of intrusive media upon her family -- said she and other victims felt they "have been hung out to dry" by the government.

Grant, who won damages for phone hacking by Rupert Murdoch's now-defunct News of the World tabloid, said hacking victims supported a rival plan by the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party for stronger media measures. The actor said lawmakers "promised victims to do right by them, and they have that chance on Monday."

Leaders of the government and opposition parties were holding last-minute talks late Sunday in a bid to reach common proposals.

Debate about how to control the press has raged in Britain since revelations in 2011 that tabloid journalists had eavesdropped on voicemails, bribed officials for information and hacked into computers in a relentless quest for scoops.

The scandal has brought the demise of one newspaper -- Murdoch's News of the World -- along with dozens of arrests and resignations, scores of lawsuits against Murdoch's media empire and a public inquiry into media ethics.

That inquiry, led by Lord Justice Brian Leveson, last year recommended the creation of a strong press watchdog body dominated by non-journalists and backed by government regulation.

But negotiations between Cameron's Conservatives and others over how to implement those recommendations have stalled amid an increasingly acrimonious debate. Politicians are divided about whether a new press watchdog should be set up through legislation -- as recommended by Leveson -- or through a Royal Charter, an executive act that does not require a vote in Parliament.

Proponents say passing a law will put the watchdog on a firmer footing and give it more power to discipline rogue newspapers. Opponents believe that passing a media law would endanger the country's free press.

In fact, the proposals aren't all that different. A new law would set up an independent press watchdog, not control the media directly. And the regulator would only have the power to impose fines or demand published apologies from newspapers -- not to stop articles being published.

But the language of the debate has been fierce, with opponents fearing the demise of Britain's free press and advocates seeing a bullying media riding roughshod over people's rights.

"The idea of a law, a great, big, all-singing, all-dancing media law ... would have been bad for press freedom, bad for individual freedom," Cameron said.

Rowling accused the prime minister of letting down hacking victims by ignoring Leveson's proposals.

"I believed David Cameron when he said that he would implement Leveson's recommendations 'unless they were bonkers,'" she said. "I did not see how he could back away, with honor, from words so bold and unequivocal.

"Well, he has backed away, and I am one among many who feel they have been hung out to dry."

Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
13Comments
Mar 18, 2013 9:45AM
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The press should not be controlled by the government. Nor should the press be working in cahoots with the government. They should leave the celebrities alone in their homes, cars and daily lives, and actually do some real reporting on things that really matter.
Mar 18, 2013 9:55AM
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The Press sucks. Reporters are scum of the earth. About equal to lawyers.
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"Rowling testified to a media ethics inquiry?"  Media, no matter where they are, have no ethics anymore.
Mar 18, 2013 8:40AM
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Freedom of the Press is worth preserving.

BUT....the Press must also be a responsible one and that too often isn't the case. I  don't often agree with DC, but I think here he is right. A legal framework is too easy to abuse by the government and those in power.

Instead, privacy laws could be used and strengthened, so long as there are exceptions for exposing crime and corruption, hypocrisy of public figures and stories of legitimate public interest - meaning not those the public are interested in.
Mar 19, 2013 1:37PM
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Anyone who counts on a Conservative government to keep its promises is downright foolish.  As for Rupert Murdoch and his goons, they bear as much resemblence to a legitimate press as Pravda does to an independent newspaper.
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