British press needs independent regulator, says Leveson inquiry

British politicians had 'too close a relationship' with press, says top judge

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 November, 2012, 6:08pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 November, 2012, 9:48pm

A senior British judge says the country needs a new, independent media regulator to eliminate a subculture of unethical behavior that infected segments of the country’s press.

Lord Justice Brian Leveson says a new regulatory body should be established in law to prevent more people being hurt by ‘’press behavior that, at times, can only be described as outrageous.”

Leveson reported on Thursday at the end of a yearlong ethics inquiry triggered by revelations of tabloid phone hacking. His proposals will likely be welcomed by victims of press intrusion and some politicians who want to see the country’s voracious press reined in. But some editors and lawmakers fear any new regulator could curtail freedom of the press.

Britain’s rambunctious press faced censure and tougher scrutiny as an ethics inquiry triggered by tabloid phone hacking released its wide-ranging report.

Lord Justice Brian Leveson was due to release the findings of his yearlong inquiry, which heard evidence from hundreds of journalists, politicians, lawyers and victims of press intrusion.

His report, reportedly running to 2,000 pages, was due for release at 9.30pm HK time.

Prime Minister David Cameron set up the inquiry after revelations of illegal eavesdropping by the now-defunct News of the World tabloid sparked a criminal investigation and a wave of public revulsion.

Leveson is expected to criticise the cosy relationship between politicians, police and the press and to recommend stronger newspaper regulation.

Many politicians and members of the public want a regulatory body enshrined in law, but some lawmakers, editors and journalists fear that could limit press freedom.

Parliament would have to approve any legal changes the report recommends, and Cameron is under intense pressure from both sides. He is also tainted by his own ties to prominent figures in the scandal.

It erupted last year when it was revealed that the Rupert Murdoch-owned News of the World had eavesdropped on the mobile phone voicemails of 13-year-old murder victim Milly Dowler while police were searching for her.

Murdoch shut down the 168-year-old newspaper in July last year. His UK newspaper company, News International, has paid damages to dozens of hacking victims, and faces lawsuits from dozens more.

The former Murdoch editors and journalists subsequently charged with phone hacking, police bribery or other wrongdoing include Cameron’s former spokesman, Andy Coulson, and former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks, a friend of the prime minister.

Coulson and Brooks were appearing in court on Thursday on charges of paying public officials for information.

Cameron, who received a copy of Leveson’s report on Wednesday, is due to make a statement about it in the House of Commons later on Thursday.

He and other senior politicians insist they will not curb Britain’s long tradition of free speech.

“Everybody wants two things: firstly, a strong, independent, raucous press who can hold people in positions of power to account, and secondly to protect ordinary people – the vulnerable, the innocent – when the press overstep the mark,” Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said on Thursday.

“That’s the balance that we are trying to strike and I am sure we will.”