This week UK attention will turn back to the phone-hacking scandal as it morphs into a wider discussion about freedom of the press. On Thursday, Lord Justice Brian Leveson will unveil the long-awaited findings of his inquiry into UK media ethics and make his recommendations on how to regulate the industry. It’s expected the report will call for some form of statutory underpinning to press regulation. That has the British media girding for battle and crying foul against its rights. Independent editor Chris Blackhurst in August said Leveson was “loading a gun” against newspapers. Prime Minister David Cameron also has a challenge on his hands as he risks alienating his media allies and/or his own government based on his reaction to the findings. And, he’ll only have 24 hours to fashion a response after getting an early look at the report on Wednesday. Cameron’s press office on Sunday said the PM remained “open-minded.”
It was Cameron who convened the inquiry in July 2011 as the phone-hacking scandal blew wide open at Rupert Murdoch’s News Of The World tabloid. During its run, the probe heard evidence from more than 150 witnesses including Murdoch, Tony Blair, Hugh Grant, J.K. Rowling, the Dowler family and Cameron himself who in June faced uncomfortable questioning about his relationship to former Murdoch lieutenant Rebekah Brooks. He recently told the BBC’s Andrew Marr he would “absolutely” abide by Leveson’s suggestions on regulation as long as they were reasonable. “The status quo is not an option,” he said. Deputy PM Nick Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband are expected to back Leveson’s proposals, but some members of Cameron’s own Conservative party are leaning towards non-statutory regulation, including London mayor Boris Johnson. At the same time, there is a group of Conservative MPs who want radical reform, The Guardian has noted.
Should he support statutory regulation, Cameron will risk alienating members of the media who are already unhappy that a light has been shone so brightly on their underbelly by an inquiry that he ordered. In April, Rupert Murdoch told the Leveson Inquiry, “When it comes to regulation, I just beg for some care. A varied press guarantees democracy.” But some papers who have not been accused of wrongdoing are likely to be caught in the crossfire. (more…)