British journalism is crossing its fingers and holding its breath as it prepares for the findings of the Leveson Report, a judicial inquiry into the tabloid phone-hacking scandal that has rocked Great Britain. Although the scandal has mainly implicated News International, parent company of Rupert Murdoch’s press interests in Britain, the findings will affect the future of every single newspaper and magazine that is printed in the U.K. Media watchers over here will be watching keenly, as the findings may well affect Murdoch’s holdings in the U.S.
British PM David Cameron had access to the 2,000 page report 24 hours ahead of the release and is to make a statement in Parliament at 3pm GMT today. The hearings, which began over a year ago, included testimonies from newspaper executives, reporters, photo agency bosses, press fixers and politicians– as well as the many victims of the hacking scandal, which included celebrities and “ordinary” people.
All of this comes on the same day that two of Rupert Murdoch’s consiglieri in Britain, Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, who also served as Mr Cameron’s communications director until 2011, are appearing in court charged with paying public officials for information.
Lord Justice Leveson has now revealed his report, and it includes a recommendation of the first law to manage the British press since 1695. The report is complex, containing around 2,000 pages of opinion and recommendations about the press’ conduct over the recent several decades, and was sparked by the phone hacking scandal. According to the report the press has been perpetrating many unethical practices for too long, and have widely ignored their own codes of conduct.
Leveson noted that a free press is important and critical to society, and that freedom was hard won over 300 years ago. As well as important stories, it can also be less serious or educational. But, Leveson noted, “what the press do and say is no ordinary expression of free speech,” and it operates differently than outlets like blogs or Twitter–it carries great responsibility, and it has been abusing that responsibility. In addition he noted that the Press Complaints Commission, which is the official British regulatory body that deals with abuses by the press, has failed.
He has proposed a new model of press self-regulation, but stated that it must not be a case of “the press marking its own homework” and that it must not be centered within the industry. Instead the chair and other members of the new regulatory body must not include any serving editor or politician–and even editorial input into populating the body must be limited.
He also addressed the gossip (presumably in traditional media and social media) about legislation in his recommendation, and felt the need to highlight that any legislation would only exist to support the new regulatory body. The laws he proposed would actually “Enshrine for the first time a legal requirement for the government to protect the press.” It cannot be considered in any way to be a statutory regulation of the press.
In conclusion, Leveson noted he would step back from the debate now, because “The ball moves back into the politicians’ court. They must now decide who guards the guardians.”