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UK: Leveson's inquiry report recommends change in regulation of British press


LONDON, (Xinhua): The long-awaited report into the culture and ethics of the British press was published Thursday with a recommendation for big changes in how newspapers in Britain are regulated. It has also divided the Govt, with Prime Minster David Cameron against independent body underpinned by legislation and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg joining Opposition Leader Ed Miliband supporting Leveson on this issue.

The report by Lord Justice Leveson followed nearly 18 months of hearings at his inquiry, which was set up by Prime Minister David Cameron in July 2011.

Leveson told a press conference the inquiry had been set up following public outrage that the News of the World (NOTW) newspaper had hacked the voicemail messages of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.

In nearly nine months of court hearings, 337 witnesses gave evidence, and the statements of 300 others were read into the record.

Among the witnesses were Cameron, victims of phone hacking and press intrusion including actor Hugh Grant, and former editors such as Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, both former editors of the NOTW.

Coulson, who later became media director for the prime minister, and Brooks, later the chief executive of News International, now face charges of paying public officials for information.

"I know how vital the press is in guarding the interests of the public, as a critical witness of events, and the standard bearer for those who have no one else to stand up for them," Leveson said.

"This power and influence carries responsibilities in the public interest. Unfortunately on too many occasions those responsibilities have simply been ignored. This has damaged the public interest, caused real hardship and on occasion wreaked havoc in the lives of innocent people," he said.

The report, in four thick volumes covering 2000 pages, recommended a new press regulator able to fine newspapers up to 1 million pounds (about 1.60 million U.S. dollars), or 1 percent of turnover, and advised that it should be set up by statute.

Leveson stopped short of putting politicians in charge of the press, and recommended that politicians and editors should not sit on the regulatory body. The body should be organized by the press, but putting editors or journalists on it was "like getting students to mark their own homework."

The body would be voluntary, and Ofcom, the independent regulator for communications industries, would act as a backstop regulator for non-members.

Leveson recommended an arbitration system for swift settlement of complaints but his new body would not have powers to prevent publication of material.

Victims of phone hacking spoke to Xinhua as they came out of the press conference.

Max Mosley, the former president of Formula One and a high-profile victim of press intrusion in 2008 when the NOTW published stories about his sex life, told Xinhua, "I would have liked more."

"What Leveson has done is give the press what it wants, but said we will have a statute, if he has his way, to make sure that it is done so that there is not any backsliding or cheating," Mosley said.

David Sherborne, representing the core participant victims of press intrusion, said, "The report recommends strong regulation of the press by a new independent body which is to be set up with real teeth."

"Importantly, this regulatory body is to be recognized and approved of by an underpinning statute. The need for a strong and independent regulator is unarguable and Lord Justice Leveson has recommended exactly that," he told Xinhua.

But in the House of Commons, Cameron said he had "serious misgivings about any statutory regulations," and said "we should be wary of any legislation that has the potential to infringe free speech and the free press."

However, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, leader of the minority party in government the Liberal Democrats, did not agree. He said "the press does not operate in a lawless vacuum" and no better solution had been suggested than the Leveson Report.

Ed Miliband, leader of the main opposition the Labor Party, welcomed Leveson's proposals, saying that they "should put their faith in Leveson's proposals."

Editor: Wang Yuanyuan

WIth The Musilm News input

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