Judge's Report Due On Regulating British Press

Nov 29, 2012
Originally published on November 29, 2012 9:18 am

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Later this morning, a British judge who spent eight months investigating the excesses of the nation's media will issue his suggestions for how to rein in the sometimes rambunctious British press. Prime Minister David Cameron ordered the wide-ranging inquiry in the wake of revelations of illegal phone hacking at The Tabloid News of the World and other papers owned by Rupert Murdoch.

But as Vicki Barker reports, Cameron's likely to face an uproar whether or not he accepts Brian Leveson's recommendations.

VICKI BARKER, BYLINE: Lord Justice Leveson's report is 2,000 pages long. The prime minister's top aides were spotted lugging into Number 10 Downing Street in cardboard boxes yesterday. Prime Minister Cameron got an advance look, but gave little away in Parliament.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON: The status quo, I would argue, does not just need updating. The status quo is unacceptable and needs to change.

BARKER: There's broad agreement that the status quo - the newspapers' current system of voluntary self-regulation - failed to prevent the illegal hacking of British celebrities, politicians and crime victims, failed to stop some journalists from paying British police officers for leaks or getting a little too cozy with politicians.

The question is: Should Britain's parliament pass unprecedented laws governing the press here, or can the British press improve how it polices itself? Actor Hugh Grant has become a campaigner for the Hacked Off campaign, which advocates for the victims of press intrusion. He says journalists should be accountable for malpractice just like doctors, lawyers and pharmacists.

HUGH GRANT: Every industry that has the power to harm people's lives has a regulator. The only industry in this country which is allowed to regulate itself is the newspaper industry.

BARKER: But the conservative-leaning Spectator - which claims to be Britain's oldest continuously published weekly - has already announced it will defy any new laws. Its editor is Fraser Nelson.

FRASER NELSON: You can't be a little bit pregnant, and in the same week, can't have a little bit of statutory regulation. Either the press is free from the politicians we hold to account, or they set the rules by which we play.

BARKER: Graham Foulkes lost his son in the July 7 London bombings, then lost his privacy when his phone was hacked by the now-defunct News of the World. He's called the hackers wicked beyond wicked, but he says the celebrities and politicians calling for new laws are just trying to muzzle the press.

GRAHAM FOULKES: We don't need any more legislation. We just need a body that is able to control when they cross the line from a morality point of view.

BARKER: A recent YouGov poll showed 79 percent of Britons favor the creation of an independent press regulator, and 42 members of Cameron's own conservative party have written to him endorsing tough new laws. But earlier this week, 86 politicians from all three main parties signed a letter opposing any form of regulation or legislation. They argued that would be tantamount to the state licensing the print media, and that practice was abolished in 1695. For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker, in London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.