The Leveson Inquiry could prompt fundamental changes in the British newspaper industry when it hands down its verdict on Thursday.
The report into British media standards will determine the future of the print media in the Britain. It will make recommendations that could have a lasting impact on the industry, lead to tighter media rules or at least an overhaul of the current system of self-regulation.
After the exposure of News of the World’s phone hacking scandal, prime minister David Cameron launched a public inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press in June 2011.
He appointed Sir Brian Leveson in July 2011 to examine the conduct and state of the British press. The inquiry is funded by the British interior ministry and the department for culture, media and sport.
The inquiry was divided in two parts. The first looks into phone hacking allegations and other potentially illegal behavior and the relationship between the press, police, and politicians. It will recommend an effective policy and regulation that ensures an efficient and transparent media system.
The second part of the report will look into the unlawful conduct within News International, the British newspaper wing of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation media empire. However, this is to take place after separate criminal proceedings conclude.
The phone hacking scandal and the close relationship between politicians and the press, most notably senior staff within the Murdoch empire and various other media organisations within the UK.
Several journalists, celebrities, business people, politicians and relatives of crime victims were targets of phone hacking by News of the World, which gained leads to many of their published stories by hacking the voicemails of various members of the public.
What was first dismissed as the wrong doings of a rogue News of the World reporter turned out to be an operation allegedly authorised by the highest members of its parent company.
This led to the linkage between government officials and the press and agreements that they came to on various occasions through personal correspondence.
The inquiry has had heard from 474 witnesses since November 2011, including victims of phone hacking who ranged from celebrities to the parents of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler. News of the World had allegedly hacked access to the voicemails of Milly Dowler’s parents and deleted messages which could have provided leads for her murder. This particular case led to the establishment of the inquiry.
Members of the media, including Rupert Murdoch; Rebekah Brooks, the former director of News International; and Andy Coulson, the former editor of the News of the World (and later, Cameron’s spokesman), were called in to provide evidence under oath at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.
The final leg of the inquiry included politicians such David Cameron and former prime minister Tony Blair, who were questioned about their relationships with Murdoch.
The report will decide if Judge Leveson recommends that the press should maintain a stronger form of their current system of self-regulation or a new form of statutory regulation which will receive a critical response from British newspapers.
The British government will make the final decision on how Leveson’s recommendations will be implemented.
Cameron has already stated that the “status quo is not an option.” However, reports have suggested that he might decline statutory regulation to maintain a free and democratic press.