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March 18, 2013

Rowling to UK government: Don't let down hacking victims

LONDON — Celebrities including J.K. Rowling and Hugh Grant accused the British government yesterday of letting down the victims of media intrusion and urged tough new measures to rein in Britain’s unruly press.

Lawmakers are to vote today on rival plans for tougher controls in the wake of the country’s 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 million pounds ($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 yesterday 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.

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