British papers shun Leveson report's call for media watchdog law

Dailies back Leveson on media ethics findings but not his call for a watchdog backed by law

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 December, 2012, 3:47am


Britain's newspapers have praised Lord Justice Leveson's report into media ethics but warn its recommendation to introduce new laws could "suffocate the free press".

Leveson, who led an eight-month inquiry sparked by the phone-hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch's News of the World tabloid, said there should be an independent self-regulatory body, underpinned by legislation.

But the newspaper editorial writers mostly backed Prime Minister David Cameron's response, which indicated he would oppose any state regulation of the press.

"We agree with Lord Justice Leveson: a free press is one of the safeguards of our democracy," the Daily Telegraph's editorial said.

"Where we part company with the learned judge ... is in his belief that either of these two bulwarks of British liberty would be served by a regulatory body for newspapers that is underpinned by legislation."

The centre-right broadsheet, which has long voiced opposition to new press laws, said Leveson's insistence that his recommendations did not amount to statutory regulation was "either sophistry or naivety".

"What is to stop MPs amending it now and in the future so that it no longer resembles the benign legislative vehicle envisaged by the judge?" it asked.

Cameron commissioned the inquiry in July last year in the wake of a report in The Guardian alleging that the News of the World hacked the voice mails of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.

The Guardian praised the 2,000-page report's "detail and clarity" but gave only conditional backing to proposals for a statutory framework.

"Clearly ... the drafting of the Leveson statute requires great care, real deliberation and cross-party support to avoid endless amendments and additions that move it from light touch to something more sinister," its editorial said. But it called on Cameron to "think carefully before dismissing significant parts" of the report.

Centre-left publication The Independent said there was "only one flaw in Lord Justice Leveson's epic verdict, but it's a crucial flaw.

"Mr Cameron is right: legislation would be unnecessary, complex and slow," it concluded.

The prime minister faces a parliamentary row as both opposition leader Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, leader of junior coalition partners the Liberal Democrats, support new laws.

The Murdoch-owned The Times backed Cameron's stance, taken despite Leveson's proposal of legislation "that was politically hard to resist".

"Sir Brian described the proposal as 'essential', hinting that to demur would be a rejection of his entire scheme. Mr Cameron did not accept this, and he was right not to," argued its leading article.

"Mr Cameron appreciated that in addition to being unnecessary, the proposed law would pose huge practical difficulties and breach the vital principle that parliament should not take responsibility for the regulation of a free press," it added.

The centre-right Daily Mail and Murdoch tabloid The Sun, a sister paper of the News of the World, both celebrated Cameron's statement as a victory for freedom of speech.