By 3 News Europe Correspondent Melissa Davies with AP
Lord Justice Brian Leveson has called for a new watchdog to curb an out-of-control British press that he says “wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people”.
His report follows a series of scandals in which journalists routinely hacked phones and paid police officers for information.
Britain’s prime minister has rejected the key recommendation, saying a law change would stifle an even more important principle – freedom of speech. But his deputy and opposition have sided with the phone hacking victims.
It was the story of the Dowlers, who were victims of phone hacking after their daughter Milly was murdered, that sparked the call for the first regulation of the British press in 400 years.
Lord Leveson says they're one of many examples of people treated with no dignity or respect by the press.
After 18 months of investigation, he recommended that press ethics should be overseen by an independent body, backed up by law, and with fines of up to $2 million for anyone who steps out of line.
Newspapers had tried to argue that the phone hacking was limited to News Of The World, but Leveson didn't buy that. He criticised editors for their lack of embarrassment over “intrusion” and “deception” through the whole of the press.
He also criticised police and politicians for having too close a relationship with the press which he said was not in the public interest.
That message didn't appear to get through to David Cameron - the British prime minister sided with the papers, saying new laws could mushroom into censorship.
“I have some serious concerns and misgivings on this recommendation. They break down into issues of principle, practicality and necessity. The issue for principle is for the first time we would have crossed the Rubicon of writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land,” he says.
The Sun’s associate political editor David Wooding also fears the future consequences of more regulation.
“My fear is that once we have crossed that line into state regulation of the press it could be tweaked at a later date and they could [have] all sorts of new powers over us,” he says.
But state regulation is the only solution according to the opposition and even Cameron’s deputy, Nick Clegg.
“Lord Justice Leveson has considered these things at length. He has found that changing the law is the only way to guarantee a system of self-regulation that governs all of the press.”
It was Cameron who ordered the Leveson inquiry, but now he doesn't want to abide by the recommendations. It looks like the final word will come down to a vote in Parliament.
LONG SCANDAL HIGHLIGHTS FAULTS OF BRITISH PRESS
- November: The News of the World tabloid reports that Prince William has knee injury. Buckingham Palace complaint prompts police inquiry that subsequently showed information came from a voicemail that was hacked.
- August: News of the World reporter Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire arrested. In January, Goodman sentenced to four months in prison, Mulcaire gets six months, and News of the World editor Andy Coulson resigns but denies knowing about phone hacking. Newspaper says hacking limited to one rogue reporter.
- May 31: Conservative Party leader David Cameron hires Coulson as media adviser.
- April : James Murdoch, son of media mogul Rupert Murdoch and a News Corp. executive, approves payment of around £700,000 to soccer executive Gordon Taylor. After hacking scandal escalates in 2011, Murdoch testifies that he was not aware that hacking was a key issue in the case.
- May 11: Cameron becomes prime minister; Coulson named communications chief.
- Jan. 14: Police reopen phone-hacking investigation after News of the World says it has found "significant new information" and fires assistant news editor Ian Edmondson.
- Jan. 21: Coulson resigns from Cameron's office.
- April 5: Police arrest Edmondson and chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck on suspicion of intercepting voicemails.
- April 8: News of the World admits responsibility for phone hacking.
- May 13: Actress Sienna Miller's lawyer says News of the World settled her lawsuit for £100,000. More settlements follow.
- July 4: The Guardian newspaper says News of the World journalists hacked into voicemails left for murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler. Allegation that journalists deleted messages from phone is never proven.
- July 7: News International, British newspaper unit of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., announces closure of News of the World.
- July 8: Coulson arrested.
- July 13: Cameron appoints Lord Justice Brian Leveson to lead inquiry into phone hacking and the culture and practices of British newspapers. News Corp drops bid to take full control of British Sky Broadcasting.
- July 15: Resignations of Rebekah Brooks, chief of News International, and Les Hinton, publisher of Dow Jones & Co. and one of Murdoch's longest-serving associates. Hinton was chairman of News International when some of the phone hacking took place.
- July 17: Brooks arrested. London police chief Paul Stephenson resigns following criticism over his alleged links to Neil Wallis, a former News of the World executive editor arrested in the scandal.
- July 18: Assistant police commissioner John Yates, who decided two years earlier not to reopen phone hacking investigation, resigns.
- July 19: Rupert Murdoch appears at a parliamentary hearing, calling it "the most humble day of my life." He and son James deny responsibility for wrongdoing.
- Aug. 24: U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announces preliminary FBI investigation of possible phone hacking targeting 9/11 victims and their families.
- Oct. 21: Rupert Murdoch faces disgruntled investors at the company's annual meeting. More than a third vote against re-electing Murdoch's sons James and Lachlan to the board of directors.
- Nov. 14: Leveson opens inquiry.
- Feb. 17: Following arrests of several reporters at The Sun, Britain's biggest-selling daily paper, Rupert Murdoch warns that he won't protect reporters who broke the law.
- Feb. 29: James Murdoch steps down as executive chairman of News International.
- March 8: Britain's Press Complaints Commission, the widely criticized industry-funded regulatory body, confirms it is to be abolished and replaced with a new agency.
- March 14: In a letter to British parliamentarians, James Murdoch says he didn't know the extent of the illegal behaviour but says "it would have been better if I had asked more questions."
- April 3: James Murdoch steps down as BSkyB chairman, remains on board.
- May 11: Brooks reveals that Cameron commiserated with her after she resigned. She acknowledges lobbying British government over the BSkyB takeover bid.
- May 15: Brooks, her husband and four others are charged over alleged attempts to conceal evidence.
- June 28: News Corp. announces plan to split into two companies, one for newspapers and another for entertainment operations.
- July 24: Coulson, Brooks and six others charged for alleged campaign of illegal espionage; targets said to include stars Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.
- Aug. 30: Tom Crone, former legal adviser to News of the World, arrested for questioning.
- Sept. 12: Lee Sandell, a former News International security guard, charged with conspiring to hide evidence of phone hacking.
- Sept. 20: Britain's communications regulator concludes that James Murdoch was not complicit in cover-up at News of the World, finds BSkyB "fit and proper" to hold a license.
- Oct. 23: Four people claiming phone hacking file suit against publisher of the Daily Mirror; first lawsuits to hit newspaper outside Murdoch's empire.
- Nov. 20: Brooks and Coulson charged with conspiring to pay public officials in exchange for stories and information.
- Nov. 29: Leveson publishes final report.