Opinion poll shows 79 per cent of Britons favoured independent press regulator

Britain’s famously cocky media was all nerves on Wednesday amid feverish speculation that Lord Justice Leveson’s report into Press ethics, due on Thursday, is likely to be heavily critical of its behaviour and recommend some form of statutory regulation to prevent another News of the World-style hacking scandal which led to the setting up of the inquiry.

An opinion poll showing that 79 per cent of Britons favoured an “independent Press regulator established by law” and Prime Minister David Cameron’s warning that the status quo was not an option added to the anxiety of already nervous proprietors and editors hoping to be given one more shot at self-regulation.

At present, newspapers are self-regulated through the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) which was heavily criticised for its inept handling of the hacking scandal, prompting questions about its usefulness.

Anxious to avoid statutory regulation, the newspaper industry has proposed a stronger and more independent self-regulatory body to replace the PCC with powers to impose heavy fines on erring newspapers.

The government is deeply divided with its junior coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, opposed to any State intervention. Mr. Cameron’s own MPs and Ministers are all over the place with some in favour of some form of statutory regulation but most against it.

Over 80 MPs, cutting across party lines, wrote to The Guardian, calling on the government to reject statutory regulation which, they said, would amount to “State licensing” of the Press.

“State licensing is inimical to any idea of press freedom and would radically alter the balance of our unwritten constitution,” they said.

Groups, representing victims of press harassment, urged the government not to allow the media to get away with it.

Mr. Cameron, caught up between conflicting pressures, said that while a free Press was “absolutely vital to democracy” it was also important that it was regulated in a way that inspired public confidence.

“What matters most, I believe, is that we end up with an independent regulatory system that can deliver and in which the public have confidence,” he said.

“Whatever the changes we make, we want a robust and free Press in our country,” he added.

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