Press bill a 'villains' charter'

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Lord Wakeham , the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, has warned that government measures to protect privacy could be a "villains' charter" which threatens freedom and protects only the rich and powerful, writes Stephen Castle.

His intervention is the first direct clash between ministers and the press regulator since the general election. It will reawaken the bitter political argument over privacy and press intrusion which exploded in the wake of Diana, Princess of Wales's death.

Lord Wakeham said an article of a government Bill to be debated in the House of Lords tomorrow could undermine one of the most precious freedoms of the British people: "to investigate, report, and comment on, matters in the public interest".

Critics of the legislation are worried about Article Eight which gives "everyone the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence". Lord Wakeham argues that under this article "public interest, or, more importantly, truth, would be no absolute justification. The courts might therefore become the arbiters of what newspapers print or television broadcasts".

Supporters of Lord Wakeham's view argue that the Bill, which incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights into British law, would prevent investigations by newspapers into the rich, the powerful, and the Royal Family.