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Harsh verdict for British press

UK judge urges oversight board for unruly papers

– Britain’s unruly newspapers should be regulated by an independent body dominated by non-journalists with the power to levy steep fines, a judge said Thursday in a report that pleased victims of tabloid intrusion but left editors worrying about creeping state control of the country’s fiercely independent press.

Prime Minister David Cameron echoed concerns about government interference, expressing misgivings about a key recommendation of the report – that the new regulator be enshrined in law. He called on the much-criticized press to show it could control itself by implementing the judge’s proposals quickly – and without political involvement.

“I’m proud of the fact that we’ve managed to survive hundreds of years without state regulation,” Cameron said.

Lord Justice Brian Leveson issued his 2,000-page report at the end of a media ethics inquiry triggered by a scandal over tabloid phone hacking that expanded to engulf senior figures in politics, the police and Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.

His key recommendation was to create a new print media regulator, which he said should be established in law to prevent more people being hurt by “outrageous” press behavior that had “wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people whose rights and liberties have been disdained.”

Leveson said the new body should be composed of members of the public including former journalists and academics – but no more than one serving editor, and no politicians.

It should have the power to rule on complaints, demand prominent corrections in newspapers and to levy fines of up to $1.6 million, though it would have no power to prevent material being published.

Membership would be voluntary, but newspapers would be encouraged to join in part to stave off expensive lawsuits – the regulator would handle complaints that currently end up in court.

Cameron set up the Leveson inquiry after revelations of illegal eavesdropping by Rupert Murdoch’s now-defunct News of the World tabloid sparked a criminal investigation and a wave of public revulsion.

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