A senior British judge concluded yesterday that 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 from being hurt by “press behavior that, at times, can only be described as outrageous.”
Leveson reported at the end of a yearlong ethics inquiry triggered by revelations of tabloid telephone hacking. His proposals are likely to be welcomed by victims of press intrusion and some politicians who want to see the country’s voracious press reined in. However, some editors and lawmakers fear any new regulator could curtail freedom of the press.
British Prime Minister David Cameron set up the inquiry after revelations of illegal eavesdropping by Rupert Murdoch’s now-defunct News of the World tabloid sparked a criminal investigation and a wave of public revulsion.
Leveson criticized the cozy relationship between politicians, police and the press, but he insisted in his 2,000-page report that politicians and the government should play no role in regulating the press.
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 News of the World had eavesdropped on the mobile phone voicemails of slain schoolgirl Milly Dowler while police were searching for the 13-year-old.
Murdoch shut down the 168-year-old newspaper in July last year. His News International company has paid millions in damages to dozens of hacking victims and faces lawsuits from dozens more.
Former Murdoch editors and journalists subsequently charged with phone hacking, police bribery or other wrongdoing include Cameron’s former spokesman, Andy Coulson, and ex-News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks.
Cameron was due to make a statement about the report in the House of Commons yesterday. 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,” British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said.