A FAR-reaching inquiry into British newspapers on Thursday called for a new independent body to regulate the press, backed by law, to prevent a repeat of the excesses that led to a phone-hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid.
Senior Judge Brian Leveson said the recommendations would in no way allow parliament to regulate the newspapers, but his proposals will put Prime Minister David Cameron on a collision course with an already hostile press and senior members of his government if he accepts the findings.
The inquiry was ordered by Mr Cameron following public outrage at Mr Murdoch’s now defunct tabloid whose staff routinely hacked into phones, including that of schoolgirl Milly Dowler who was later found dead.
Judge Leveson was highly critical of sections of the press, describing its behaviour as "outrageous" and said it had "wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people".
He said the newspapers should be subject to a new law that would set out the principles for an independent self-regulatory body to stick to, and that would place a legal duty on the government to protect the freedom of the press.
The independent body could be scrutinised by Ofcom, the regulator that already oversees radio and television.
Anything less, Judge Leveson said, would not be accepted by the victims of press abuse, a key element for Mr Cameron.
"Despite what will be said about these recommendations by those who oppose them, this is not, and cannot be characterised as, statutory regulation of the press," he said in the report of almost 2,000 pages.
Judge Leveson also said that politicians had become too close to newspaper executives in the past 30 years, and warned that the close ties formed between the government and Mr Murdoch’s News Corp over the aborted takeover of BSkyB was concerning and had had the potential to jeopardise the $12bn bid.
He said there was no credible evidence of bias on the part of senior minister Jeremy Hunt in his handling of the BSkyB takeover, but said the close ties allowed a perception of favouritism.