David Cameron. Photo by Reuters
Prime Minister David Cameron faces a no-win situation
when a far-reaching inquiry into British newspapers delivers
its verdict on how to curb the excesses of the country's
notoriously aggressive press.
Cameron, who was embarrassed when details of his personal
links to Rupert Murdoch and his media empire emerged at the
inquiry, will have to decide whether to accept its findings,
which risk dividing his coalition government and angering an
already hostile press.
He will give his response to the House of Commons after the
report is published at 1.30pm (GMT), under scrutiny from the
chamber's public gallery filled with high-profile figures who
have campaigned for a clampdown on an industry they say ruins
The inquiry was ordered by Cameron following public outrage
at Murdoch's now defunct News of the World tabloid,
whose journalists had hacked the phone messages of schoolgirl
Milly Dowler, who was later found dead.
Exposing the cosy relationships between political leaders,
police chiefs and press barons, the inquiry revealed the
"dark arts" of journalists seeking ever more salacious
stories in a bid to hold up dwindling circulation figures.
Huge attention will be focused on whether Lord Justice Brian
Leveson, one of Britain's top judges, recommends a new body
to regulate the press with powers enshrined in law, or merely
says the existing system of self-regulation should be
He could also criticise Cameron's government, including one
of his most senior ministers, Jeremy Hunt, for close ties to
Murdoch's News Corp and their handling of the company's
aborted bid to take control of pay-TV group BSkyB in what
would have been its largest acquisition.
The press, backed by some 80 members of parliament, has
lobbied hard for Cameron to resist calls for legislation,
arguing it would curb freedom of speech and mean newspapers
requiring state approval for the first time since 1695.
However, a similar number of lawmakers, as well as academics
and celebrities, favour statutory regulation while opinion
polls suggest the public also agrees.
The issue has divided the cabinet and could put the prime
minister at odds with the leader of the Liberal Democrats,
the junior partners in the coalition government.
"The status quo is unacceptable and needs to change," Cameron
told parliament on Wednesday (local time). "This government
set up Leveson because of unacceptable practices in parts of
the media and because of a failed regulatory system."
Some media have speculated that Cameron will give the press
one last chance to get its house in order even if Leveson
backs a new law, although critics say there have been similar
repeated warnings for half a century, all of which have been
Under the watchful eye of Leveson, celebrities - including
Hollywood actor Hugh Grant, Harry Potter author JK Rowling,
singer Charlotte Church and Dowler's parents - and other
unknown Britons who found themselves in the media spotlight
told the inquiry how they had been harassed, bullied, and
traumatised by the press.
Four prime ministers including Cameron were also quizzed in
great detail about their links to newspaper owners,
especially Murdoch, who himself endured two days of grilling,
during which he denied playing puppet-master to those running
The inquiry heard intimate emails and text messages between
Cameron and Murdoch's top lieutenant Rebekah Brooks, who goes
on trial next year over the alleged phone hacking.
"A lot of these very difficult decisions are no-win
situations politically but what the prime minister wants to
do is to do the right thing, and that's the kind of decision
that will stand the test of time," Hunt, a former Culture
Secretary and now Health Secretary, told Sky News.