UK press inquiry calls for new legislation

Leveson report calls for tougher self-regulation backed by law, but PM voices “serious concerns” over any new statutes.

The Leveson inquiry into Britain’s newspaper industry has recommended a scrutinised form of self-regulation backed by legislation to uphold UK press standards.

Judge Brian Leveson said a new regulatory body should be established in law to prevent more people being hurt by “press behaviour that, at times, can only be described as outrageous”.

Leveson reported on Thursday at the end of a year-long ethics investigation triggered by revelations of tabloid phone hacking.

His proposals are likely to be welcomed by victims of press intrusion and some politicians who want to see the country’s press reined in.

Al Jazeera’s Laurence Lee, reporting from London, said: “The great fear in this report was that Lord Leveson would come out and say the government should regulate the press, but he came out that the press should be free, and there should be a new and independent body to regulate the British press.”

Cameron misgivings

David Cameron, the British prime minister, said that while he supported the findings of the inquiry, he was not in favour of new legislation to regulate the press.

Addressing parliament following the report’s publication, Cameron said: “I’m not convinced at this stage that statute is necessary to achieve Lord Justice Leveson’s objectives.

“I have some serious concerns and misgivings on this recommendation.

“We will have crossed the rubicon of writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land … we should think very, very carefully before crossing this line.”

Cameron said he would discuss with the other parties in parliament whether there were “alternative options” for putting the “Leveson principles of regulation” in place.

However, Nick Clegg, Cameron’s deputy in the governing coalition, said he backed new legislation.

“On the basic model of a new self-regulatory body, established with a change to the law in principle, I believe
this can be done in a proportionate and workable way,” Clegg
told parliament.

“Changing the law is the only way to give us all the assurance that the new regulator isn’t just independent for a
few months or years, but is independent for good.”

‘Innocent people’

Leveson said he wanted to see a major new self-regulatory body, independent of serving editors, to uphold press standards and the right of victims of intrusion to seek redress.

Leveson said legislation would provide “an independent process to recognise the new self-regulatory body and reassure the public that the basic requirements of independence and effectiveness were met”.

He said the press had “wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people” on far too many occasions in the last ten years as the industry had ignored its own code of conduct for over a number of years.

There had been a “recklessness in prioritising sensational stories”, irrespective of the harm that may be caused, said Leveson.

The judge criticised politicians of all parties who had developed “too close a relationship with the press in a way which has not been in the public interest”.

Leveson however acknowledged that all of the press served the country “very well for the vast majority of the time,” holding a privileged and powerful place as defender of democracy and the public interest.

Cameron set up the inquiry in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid, which was closed as a result of the scandal.

The scandal has rocked Britain’s press, political and police establishments, who were seen enjoying an often cozy relationship in which drinks, dinners and sometimes money were traded for influence and information.

Several senior police officers resigned over the failure to aggressively pursue an earlier investigation of phone hacking at the News of the World in 2007.

But Leveson said “the inquiry has not unearthed extensive evidence of police corruption”.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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