British Prime Minister David Cameron has warned that the current UK newspaper regulation system is unacceptable, as he received a landmark judicial report into the press phone-hacking scandal.
“The status quo, I would argue, does not just need updating; the status quo is unacceptable and needs to change.“
– David Cameron
Cameron’s comments came on Wednesday, a day before senior judge Brian Leveson is due to publish his findings from a year-long inquiry into press ethics, which are widely expected to include recommendations for statutory regulation.
More than 80 UK lawmakers in both houses have urged Leveson to not recommend a press regulation law.
Cameron told parliaments that he hoped the process would lead to “an independent regulatory system” for the press and called for a cross-party consensus, but did not say if he supported new laws.
Cameron set up the Leveson inquiry in July 2011 after the discovery of widespread hacking of voicemails and other illegal practices at Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid, which the Australian-born tycoon then closed down.
‘Needs to change’
Leveson was asked to produce a list of recommendations for a more effective policy and regulatory regime for the press, which would preserve its independence while encouraging higher ethical and professional standards.
“The status quo, I would argue, does not just need updating; the status quo is unacceptable and needs to change,” Cameron said.
“This government set up Leveson because of unacceptable practices in parts of the media and a failed regulatory system.”
Currently the British press is self-regulated by the Press Complaints Commission, a body staffed by editors, which critics say is toothless.
On Thursday, Cameron will give a statement to parliament following the publication of Leveson’s report and there will be a parliamentary debate next week on its recommendations.
Cameron’s Downing Street office received “half a dozen” advance copies of Leveson’s 1,000-page report on Wednesday so that Cameron can prepare his statement.
The recommendations by Leveson are likely to present him with a dilemma as 80 lawmakers are concerned if statutory regulations are introduced.
In an open letter published on Wednesday, the group said that any introduction of statutory regulation would be the biggest blow to media freedom in Britain for 300 years.
“As parliamentarians, we believe in free speech and are opposed to the imposition of any form of statutory control even if it is dressed up as underpinning,” said the letter published in the Guardian and Daily Telegraph newspapers.
London 2012 Olympics chief Sebastian Coe was among the senior Conservatives who signed the letter, as well as former defence minister Liam Fox and former Europe minister David Davis.
British actor Hugh Grant, who has spoken out on behalf of victims of phone hacking, also called for new laws.
“What people are campaigning for is an end to newspapers being able to regulate themselves, marking their own homework,” the “Four Weddings and a Funeral” star told BBC television.
The Leveson inquiry heard eight months of testimony from hacking victims, politicians and media figures.
British police have also launched three linked investigations into misdeeds by newspapers, while Cameron’s former spokesman Andy Coulson and ex-Murdoch aide Rebekah Brooks have both been charged with phone hacking and bribery.