U.K. Judge: British Press Needs Powerful Watchdog
An eight month investigation into phone hacking and other abuses by British newspapers has concluded that the industry needs a powerful new watchdog with some legal powers to wield carrots and sticks. Judge Brian Leveson, who led the inquiry, says the watchdog would be independent and insists that it "cannot reasonably or fairly be be characterized as statutory regulation of the press." But Prime Minister David Cameron, who commissioned the investigation, voiced doubts about that, saying "I think it would be a dereliction of our duty in this House of Commons that has stood up for freedom and for free press year after year, century after century, to cross a Rubicon of legislating about the press without thinking about it very carefully, first." Cameron's stance angered victims of tabloid hacking. Said one "I think he's gone back on his word and I feel betrayed."
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
A British judge has released the results of his eight-month investigation into illegal phone hacking and other misdeeds by British newspapers. His verdict: The industry needs a powerful new watchdog. But Judge Brian Leveson insisted that does not mean government control over Britain's famously rambunctious tabloids.
Vicki Barker reports from London.
VICKI BARKER, BYLINE: Among those getting an advanced look at Lord Justice Leveson's report today, the actor and hacking victim Hugh Grant and the parents of slain teenager Milly Dowler, whose phone was hacked by Rupert Murdoch's News of the World. Public revulsion at that revelation last year prompted Murdoch to close the tabloid, and Prime Minister David Cameron to open this inquiry.
Leveson said voluntary self-regulation of Britain's newspapers has failed. He called for an independent press watchdog with some legal powers to wield both carrots and sticks.
LORD JUSTICE BRIAN LEVESON: This is not and cannot reasonably or fairly be characterized as statutory regulation of the press.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Amend the statement to the House.
HOUSE OF PARLIAMENT MEMBERS: Yea.
BARKER: But inside Parliament, the same conservative prime minister who commissioned the inquiry expressed misgivings about that central point.
DAVID CAMERON: I think it would be a dereliction of our duty in this House of Commons that has stood up for freedom and for free press, year after year, century after century, to cross a Rubicon of legislative (unintelligible) the press without thinking about it very carefully first.
BARKER: Leveson found there was no basis to rumors that Cameron had struck some kind of secret deal with the Murdoch empire in exchange for its newspaper's support. But outside, masked protesters waved signs that said: Can Cameron Break Free of the Murdoch Mafia? And several phone hacking victims deplored what they saw as a prime ministerial U-turn.
Jane Winter was one of several who met with Cameron recently, urging him to accept Leveson's recommendations.
JANE WINTER: His response was as long as it's not bonkers, I'll do that. Well, I saw the report this morning. It doesn't look bonkers to me. And I think he's gone back on his word and I feel betrayed.
BARKER: In Parliament today, Cameron's coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats' leader Nick Clegg, openly split with the prime minister calling for lawmakers to fast-track most, if not all of Leveson's recommendations. The victims have suffered long enough, he said.
For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker in London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.