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British press needs regulator, says phone-hacking inquiry

Lord Leveson concludes today a yearlong inquiry into the practices of the British press, including tabloids accused of illegal phone hacking.

By Jill LawlessAssociated Press / November 29, 2012

In this file photo, Lord Justice Brian Leveson speaks during the July 2011 session of his phone hacking inquiry in London. Leveson announced his final findings this morning.

Sean Dempsey/AP/Pool/File

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London

Britain needs a new independent media regulator to eliminate a subculture of unethical behavior that infected segments of the country's press, a senior judge said Thursday at the end of a yearlong inquiry into newspaper wrongdoing.

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Lord Justice Brian Leveson said a new regulatory body should be established in law to prevent more people being hurt by "press behavior that, at times, can only be described as outrageous."

He said "what is needed is a genuinely independent and effective system of self-regulation."

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

His proposals will likely be welcomed by victims of press intrusion and some politicians, who want to see the country's rambunctious press reined in. But some editors and lawmakers fear any new body could curtail freedom of the press.

Leveson insisted in his report that politicians and the government should play no role in regulating the press, which should be done by a new body with much stronger powers than the current Press Complaints Commission.

But Leveson said it was "essential that there should be legislation to underpin the independent self-regulatory system."

He said the new body should be composed of members of the public including former journalists and academics – but no serving editors or politicians. It should have the power to demand prominent corrections in newspapers and to levy fines of up to 1 million pounds ($1.6 million).

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

The furor erupted in 2011 when it was revealed that the News of the World had eavesdropped on the mobile phone voicemails of slain schoolgirl Milly Dowler while police were searching for the 13-year-old.

Murdoch shut down the 168-year-old newspaper in July 2011. His UK newspaper company, News International, has paid millions in damages to dozens of hacking victims, and faces lawsuits from dozens more, from celebrities, politicians, athletes and crime victims whose voicemails were hacked in the paper's quest for scoops.

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