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PM backs down on bill to ban press spying
There has been a campaign by leading newspapers, including representatives of the Daily Mail, News International and the Telegraph, to lobby the prime minister about the bill and critics say that Brown has bowed to this pressure.
This kind of press behaviour has already been illegal for 15 years, but because the current penalties are only fines, the law has been widely flouted.
Last year a News of the World reporter was jailed under existing laws for hacking into royal telephone messages in pursuit of gossip.
A spokesman for the Daily Mail said "If the legislation were to proceed, Britain would be virtually the only civilised country in the world where journalists and editors could be jailed for doing their job. These views have made known to the prime minister and the minister of justice by senior industry figures."
There have been reports of rows in Whitehall over the threatened U-turn. One senior Whitehall source said last night: "These media barons - just how much power do they have?"
The government's sudden retreat also drew criticism last night from the information commissioner, Richard Thomas, who said it was vital to stand firm against "powerful last-ditch efforts" by the media to derail new laws.
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