UK inquiry calls for law after hacking scandal

Leveson suggests independent body recognised by law

A far-reaching inquiry into British newspapers has called for a new independent watchdog enshrined in law to regulate the press, to prevent a repeat of the excesses which led to a phone hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch's News of the World tabloid.

The recommendation on Thursday meant Prime Minister David Cameron faced angering either senior figures in his party and Britain's newspapers or his coalition partners and the public. The inquiry called for a radical overhaul of how Britain's notoriously aggressive press should be governed.

“I do not think that either the victims or the public would accept the outcome if the industry did not grasp this opportunity,” wrote Lord Justice Brian Leveson, whose report ran to almost 2,000 pages.

While acknowledging Britain's newspapers did much good, he was scathing about some of their behaviour and how they had ignored complaints and "wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people". This had been most keenly demonstrated by journalists at Murdoch's now defunct News of the World, a News Corp tabloid, who hacked the phone messages of missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler, who was later found murdered.

Leveson said there should be a new independent self-regulatory body, which crucially would be recognised in law, something the press and many within Cameron's own party, including senior ministers, have adamantly opposed as an erosion of centuries-old press freedoms. “Despite what is said about these recommendations by those who oppose them, this is not and cannot be characterised as, statutory regulation of the press," he said.

“It would enshrine, for the first time, a legal duty on the government to protect the freedom of the press. “The ball moves back into the politicians' court: they must now decide who guards the guardians,” Leveson told a news conference. The report leaves Cameron, who was embarrassed when details of his cosy texts to one of Murdoch's lieutenants emerged at the inquiry, in a no-win situation.

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