Lord Justice Brian Leveson appears on the front page of a
stack of evening newspapers after his report on media
practices was released in central London. REUTERS/Luke
Prime Minister David Cameron rejected the idea of a law
to regulate the British press today, risking a split in his
coalition after an inquiry proposed a watchdog with legal
backing to regulate the sometimes outrageous behaviour of the
Opposing a legal foundation to an independent regulator will
delight the British press ahead of the 2015 election but may
raise concern inside the coalition that Cameron lacks the
mettle to stand up to media barons such as Rupert Murdoch.
Cameron said he was wary of writing press regulation into
law, a snub to the inquiry he ordered after public outrage at
revelations that one of Murdoch's tabloids hacked the phone
messages of a 13-year-old murder victim.
"The issue of principle is that for the first time we would
have crossed the rubicon of writing elements of press
regulation into the law of the land," Cameron told
parliament, watched from the gallery by victims of
phone-hacking who have campaigned for tougher rules to police
Britain's recalcitrant media.
"I'm not convinced at this stage that statute is necessary,"
Cameron said, just hours after Lord Justice Brian Leveson
reported on his inquiry which laid bare the cosy ties between
British leaders, police chiefs and press barons.
Presenting his nearly 2,000-page report opposite the House of
Commons, Leveson said he had no intention of undermining
three centuries of press freedom but that the press had at
times "wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people" and
was sometimes guilty of "outrageous" behaviour.
Leveson said it was "essential" that there should be
legislation to underpin a new independent, self-regulatory
body for the press that would be scrutinised by the broadcast
regulator Ofcom and have the power to impose fines of up to 1
percent of turnover up to a maximum of 1 million pounds.
"The ball moves back into the politicians' court: they must
now decide who guards the guardians," Leveson said.
The behaviour of Britain's tabloid press has come under
imcreasing scrutiny in recent years. While British newspapers
were unwilling to report on King Edward VII's affair with
American divorcee Wallis Simpson in the 1930s, their conduct
has since become much less restrained in the battle for
As competition intensified, open season was declared on the
private lives of the royal family, culminating in feverish
coverage of Princess Diana, hounded by paparazzi as her
marriage to Prince Charles collapsed.
At one point in the early 1990s, a government minister warned
the tabloid press that they were "drinking in the last chance
saloon". A subsequent inquiry led to the setting up the Press
Complaints Commission, a self-regulating watchdog now deemed
to have failed.
While Cameron rejected immediate legislation, the leader of
the opposition Labour Party said he supported Leveson's
proposals as did Cameron's coalition partner, Deputy Prime
Minister Nick Clegg.
"There can be no more last chance saloons," said Labour
leader Ed Miliband.
In a sign of a split at the very heart of government, Clegg
said legislation was the only real way to establish a new
self-regulatory body for the press.
"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," Clegg
Victims of phone hacking say the raucous media has been given
no less than seven chances to reform in the last 70 years.
Leveson heard evidence from a host of celebrities including
Harry Potter author JK Rowling, singer Charlotte Church and
ordinary people who told the inquiry how they had been
harassed, bullied, and traumatised by the press.
Hacked Off, an organisation set up to represent victims of
press abuse, said it welcomed the Leveson recommendations and
called for a deadline for implementing the judge's proposals.
"The inquiry is over. Now is the time for action," it said.
But many within Cameron's own party, including senior
ministers, and the majority of the press have said they are
adamantly opposed to any form of legislation as they see it
as an erosion of press freedom.
Lord Black, currently the head of the body which funds the
current discredited, self-regulatory system, said there was
no need to subject the new body to a statutory regime.
"Any form of statutory press control in a free society is
fraught with danger, totally impractical and would take far
too long to implement," he said.
Leveson said the relationship between politicians and the
press was too close.
Leveson warned that the close ties formed between the
government and Murdoch's News Corp over the aborted takeover
of BSkyB was concerning and had the potential to jeopardise
the $12 billion bid.
But he offered little in the way of direct criticism of
individuals, ammunition for those who hoped it would condemn
Cameron for his links to Murdoch's media empire
He said there was no credible evidence of bias on the part of
senior minister and Cameron ally Jeremy Hunt in his handling
of the BSkyB takeover, but said the close ties allowed a
perception of favouritism.
Inquiry hearings embarrassed Cameron by exposing his close
ties to executives at Murdoch's British newspaper empire,
notably former top lieutenant Rebekah Brooks, who is facing
criminal action over phone-hacking and other alleged illegal
Brooks appeared in court earlier on Thursday accused of
making illegal payments to public officials.
Four prime ministers including Cameron were 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