Actor Hugh Grant, celebrity leader of the campaign to rein in the hacking British media, is going after Prime Minister David Cameron for not backing strong enough measures. And Cameron's friends in the press are going after Grant.
"Be wise," read the headline in The Guardian, the left-leaning paper, where Grant penned a column today about how Cameron and his Conservative government were missing an historic opportunity.
"When he was forced to choose between honoring his promises to the victims of years of press abuses or staying cozy with the owners of Conservative-supporting newspapers, he chose the press barons," Grant wrote. "When he had the choice between giving the British people an independent press complaints system or letting the newspaper industry continue to mark its own homework, he chose the latter."
Legislators are to vote in Parliament Monday on rival plans for new controls on the media in the wake of the country's phone-hacking scandal, which shook the police, press and political establishment to the core.
Hundreds of actors, royals, celebrities and sports stars were targets of years of illegal snooping by tabloid reporters, scores of journalists have been arrested, and Rupert Murdoch's News Corp empire was forced to close a paper, pay out millions in settlements and apologize.
Grant is a leader of Hacked Off, the celebrity-led effort to create a tougher media watchdog scheme that would could force the usually unruly British press to behave and punish them if they don't. (None of this would be possible in the USA thanks to the First Amendment.)
Grant and his fellow campaigner, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, both of them hacking targets, are trying to increase the pressure on the Tory prime minister in advance of the vote. They say Cameron has let down all hacking victims by not backing strong enough media controls.
But the major British tabloids are not going down quietly. The Daily Mail today is shouting about a leaked Hacked Off document that supposedly shows Grant and his cohorts are engaged in a "cynical ploy" to help rebel Tory legislators (MPs) "bring down" Cameron.
Grant, previously best known as the sweetly stuttering star of such frothy British comedies as Three Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and the Bridget Jones franchise, is now fighting in the blood-stained pit of British politics, and he's not backing down. (He once played the prime minister in Love Actually.) He used his Guardian column to push back.
"The prime minister is facing possible defeat, not because Hacked Off is a mighty instrument of propaganda or a slick PR machine (it is neither), but because he is so clearly on the wrong side in this debate," Grant wrote. "If MPs fail (to pass the right scheme), we will all be back here in 10 years' time with another inquiry after more newspaper abuses of innocent people."