LONDON (Reuters) - A senior judge who presided over a year-long inquiry into the standards and ethics of the British press delivered his verdict on Thursday.
Prime Minister David Cameron set up the inquiry, headed by Lord Justice Brian Leveson, following public outrage at revelations that journalists from Rupert Murdoch’s now defunct News of the World newspaper had hacked into voicemails on the mobile phone of a missing schoolgirl who was later found murdered.
Here are the main findings of Leveson, who heard evidence from hundreds of witnesses including Cameron, former prime ministers, newspaper owners such as Murdoch as well as celebrities and others affected by the press.
Report states there has been a recklessness in prioritising sensational stories in the industry, “almost irrespective of the harm that the stories may cause and the rights of those who would be affected”.
It points to evidence that journalists have targeted actors, footballers, writers, pop stars in a way that affected them and their families negatively, “whether or not there is a true public interest in knowing how they spend their lives”.
It describes a willingness in the industry to use covert surveillance, misrepresentation and deception in circumstances where it is difficult to see any public interest justification.
Persistence to investigate stories has sometimes been pursued “to the point of vice, where it has become (or, at the very least, verges on) harassment”.
The existing watchdog, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has failed and a new body is required.
Report rejects a proposal from some newspapers for a more robust version of the PCC. Instead, it should be replaced by an independent self-regulatory body whose chairman and board members must be appointed in a transparent way, without any influence from industry or government.
Legislation is essential to underpin the new body. Report stresses it is not proposing statutory regulation of the press.
The proposed legislation would not give any rights to parliament, to government, or any other body to prevent newspapers from publishing anything they wanted.
Report states there is evidence that over the last 30-35 years and longer, political parties have had or developed too close a relationship with the press in a way which has not been in the public interest.
It cites a bid by Murdoch’s News Corp to increase its holding in satellite broadcaster BSkyB as an example - including the roles of Jeremy Hunt, who as the government’s then Culture Secretary reviewed the bid that failed last year, his Special Adviser Adam Smith and News Corp’s professional lobbyist Frédéric Michel:
“I have concluded that there is no credible evidence of actual bias on the part of Mr Hunt. However, the voluminous exchanges between Mr Michel and Mr Smith, in the circumstances, give rise to a perception of bias. The fact that they were conducted informally, and off the departmental record, are an additional cause for concern.”
Report concludes that positive steps are needed to address “a genuine and legitimate problem of public perception, and hence of trust and confidence”.
Police failed to investigate adequately allegations of phone-hacking, adopting a “defensive mindset” which led to making “a series of poor decisions, poorly executed”.
Report says it is important for the government to find a way of ensuring there is a mechanism for protecting media plurality.
It states there are few existing mechanisms to protect plurality and no current option for the government or regulators to step in to protect plurality if it is threatened by organic change in the market.
Reporting by Michael Holden, Kate Holton, Tim Castle and Maria Golovnina; editing by David Stamp