Why weren't we invited? Papers furious at Royal Charter deal
Hacked Off group were in on late-night talks - but the papers weren't. Now they're threatening a boycott
FOUR newspaper groups are taking legal advice today on whether they can make a challenge in the courts to the new press watchdog which is to be set up under a Royal Charter after David Cameron cobbled together a last-minute cross-party deal to get his nuts out of the fire.
The Mail's editor-in-chief Paul Dacre and Sun proprietor Rupert Murdoch find themselves in an unlikely alliance with the Barclay brothers, owners of the Telegraph and Richard Desmond, owner of the Express, because they are furious that they were left out of the crucial talks while representatives of the pressure group Hacked Off were at the negotiating table.
Initially, the deal came as a blessed relief to David Cameron who feared he was caught between a rock and a hard place - the press barons, who could turn nasty at the next election, and public opinion, which was massively on the side of the hacking victims calling for tougher controls.
The deal was thrashed out between Cameron's coalition Lib Dem partner Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband and Cameron's representative, Oliver Letwin, and - it now transpires - four members of the Hacked Off campaign, in the Westminster office of Ed Miliband.
It rescued Cameron from what was set to be an embarrassing defeat in the Commons last night - though he may still pay a heavy price.
For a start, Miliband is the Leader of the Opposition, but he was made to look like the man in charge of these negotiations, leaving Cameron standing on the sidelines of one of the biggest changes in press law for 300 years.
Second, with the threat of front page apologies and million-pound fines, it has failed to win over the largely Tory-supporting papers whose support Dave desperately needs to win the next election.
Paul Goodman, the former Tory MP, says on the ConservativeHome website this morning: "Every Fleet Street editor will be aware of the claims of Downing Street incoherence and incompetence with which Cameron's own ministers ceaselessly regale their lobby staff (and with which the editors of this site are only too familiar). Now they have experienced it at first hand.
"The millionaire-funded interest group [i.e. Hacked Off] which wants to censor your paper was in on the talks which shaped the laws that govern your industry - but you, for whatever reason, were not. 'The Quad' [the Sun, Mail, Telegraph and Express titles] have long had little time for the Prime Minister. They will now have even less. This is not exactly a cheering prospect for Number Ten as it prepares for the Budget this week and local elections this spring."
Even the Labour-supporting Daily Mirror damned Dave's deal, denouncing it as: "The day the Press was shackled: Feeble Cameron bows to pressure and paves way for 'Ministry of Truth'."
It reported the former Tory Cabinet minister Peter Lilley saying: "The regulator can require those who subscribe to publish a factual correction. That is a dangerous step. We are giving a body the right to decide what is fact and what is true.
"At worse, it is going to be establishing a sort of mini self-appointed Ministry of Truth who can decide what is true and must be published, and what is false and must be withdrawn." Lilley urged papers to refuse to sign up to the watchdog. ·