17 months and 184 witnesses later, Lord Justice Leveson has finally published his report into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press. If you don’t have the time to plough through the 2,000 pages, find a snapshot review here at the Guardian.
You may remember that the commission was instigated after a series of journalist ethical scandals. Revelations included the fact that The News of the World newspaper had illegally tapped the phones of the parents of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, and Maddie McCann, who had disappeared and has never been found. The report makes sorry reading with criticisms of the ‘devastating’ experiences of these families at the hands of the press, the widespread attitude of celebrities being ‘fair game’, and comments about politicians being too close to press owners.
In the teeth of opposition from Fleet Street (shorthand for Britain’s national newspapers after the central London street where none of them can afford to be based any more), the report recommends the introduction of the first press law in Britain since1695. Up until now, the industry has relied on self-regulation that clearly failed to control an increasingly aggressive tabloid culture. A privacy law proposed in the late 1980s was not passed and media victims had to go the courts where libel suits were costly and complex.
If the proposals go ahead, an independent statutory body will oversee a revamped Press Complaints Commission – the existing regulatory body. The proposed law would also see a low-cost libel and privacy tribunal for complaints from the public.
Where now? British Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed many of Leveson’s findings, but expressed “serious concerns and misgivings” regarding implementing the changes with legislation. Now the talks begin between politicians and press about implementation.