British politicians clinch deal to regulate scandal-hungry press

LONDON (REUTERS) - Britain's three main political parties struck a compromise deal on a new regulatory system for the country's newspapers in the early hours of Monday morning, a lawmaker said, hours before what was to be a divisive parliamentary vote on the issue.

The government came under pressure to put a new regulatory system in place after a judge-led inquiry and a series of arrests laid bare a culture of phone hacking and malpractice in some parts of Britain's scandal-hungry press.

The deal is expected to see a new press regulator set up, the introduction of fines of up to 1 million pounds (S$1.51 million), and an obligation on newspapers to print prominent apologies where appropriate.

"I think we have got an agreement which protects the freedom of the press, that is incredibly important in a democracy, but also protects the rights of people not to have their lives turned upside down," Harriet Harman, the deputy leader of the opposition Labour party, told ITV TV.

Culture Secretary Maria Miller, a member of the ruling Conservative party, played down how much her party had been forced to compromise.

A deal spares Prime Minister David Cameron what was shaping up to be an embarrassing political defeat in parliament that would have deepened rifts in his coalition government and ends a long-running debate that has exposed close ties between politicians and the press.

Harman said the deal would be put to the lower house of parliament later on Monday, but that she hoped a vote could be avoided and that "everybody will be agreed".

The three parties got a deal after agreeing to enact legislation in the upper house of parliament to ensure the new system cannot be easily altered or watered down later.

The three parties had been divided over whether a new press regulator should be enshrined in law and over how its members would be chosen.

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