The moment British journalists had been dreading, finally arrived at 1.30 p.m. on Thursday as Lord Justice Leveson delivered a withering verdict on their behaviour, calling it “reckless” and “outrageous’’ and recommending a new “genuinely independent” regulatory body “underpinned” by legislation to prevent another News of the World-style hacking scandal.
However, he stopped short of calling for statutory regulation — the so-called “nuclear option” that he was widely speculated to be considering.
Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking in the Commons later, appeared to reject any form of legislation at all. “We should be wary of any legislation that has the potential to infringe free speech and the free press,’’ he said while broadly welcoming the “Leveson principle” of regulation.
However, the Labour party, supported legislation.
Groups representing victims of media excesses described Lord Leveson’s proposals as “fair” and “proportionate.”
Lord Leveson accused the media of putting sensationalism above public interest, saying that there was “recklessness in prioritising sensational stories.” By its reckless behaviour, the media had “wreaked havoc on the lives of innocent people” for many decades.
He reminded that his enquiry itself was a reaction to the “public revulsion” over the hacking scandal that included hacking the phone of a dead schoolgirl. Having failed to regulate itself, there was need for a tough independent regulator to rein it in.
“The press has to be accountable to the public in whose interests it claims to be acting and must show respect for the rights of others... The answer to the question who guards the guardians, should not be 'no-one',” he said.
Lord Leveson’s 2,000-page report, which he described as the “the most concentrated look at the press this country has ever seen,” also made uncomfortable reading for politicians. Politicians of all parties had developed “too close a relationship with the press in a way which has not been in the public interest,” it said. This had “undermined” public confidence.
Lord Leveson said the press had a “right to lobby,” but the process must be “more transparent to avoid perception of bias.” Politicians, on their part, should make policies on the basis of public interest and not be influenced by their personal links with the press.
The new regulatory body, he said, should be “truly independent” of the newspaper industry and the government. It should not include any “serving editor” or politician and be able to provide a fair and quick redress to victims of media excesses.
The enquiry, which was held in public and ran for eight months from November 2011, took evidence from more than 300 witnesses, including politicians, media figures and victims of press harassment.