Nov. 27 - After a year-long public inquiry exposed the worst excesses of Britain's raucous newspapers, the press is battling to avoid any proposals for tougher regulation next week, and Prime Minister David Cameron will come under fire whatever he decides. Matt Cowan reports.
What started with The News of the World living up to its name for all the wrong reasons culminates this week with the release of what promises to be a bombshell report into the world of the news. The year-long Leveson Inquiry into press standards in Britain was sparked by public furore over revelations that the phone of a murdered schoolgirl had been hacked by the now defunct Sunday tabloid. Former Times editor George Brock, who now heads up of the journalism department at London's City University, expects it will make for difficult reading for many in the industry. (SOUNDBITE) GEORGE BROCK, HEAD OF JOURNALISM, LONDON'S CITY UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "A lot of British newspaper editors are going to be feeling extremely nervous because some of the popular papers are going to get hit extremely hard in the report. The report has to make recommendations about regulation but I think there's going to be a long piece of narrative first and I think it's going to be very, very critical. Perhaps the most critical report of its kind ever." With a wide ranging remit, the Leveson Inquiry heard testimony from 164 witnesses including the Prime Minister, News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch and an array of celebrities - one of them actor Hugh Grant. It exposed not only the tawdry tactics of some in the press, but also the cosy relationship between Britain's politicians, newspaper executives and senior police officers. SOUNDBITE: Matt Cowan, Reuters Correspondent saying (English): "Britain is famous for its competitive and sometimes lurid press. In fact, the Royal Courts of Justice where this Inquiry has taken place is located just at the foot of the famous Fleet Street. And while there have been many attempts to control the excesses of the press in the past, many people think - and some people fear - that this time will be different." The suggestion that Leveson may recommend a new independent body with statutory powers over the press to replace the current system of self-regulation has been especially controversial. Bob Satchwell is the executive director of the UK's society of editors. SOUNDBITE: Bob Satchwell, Society of Editors, saying (English) "Five million stories don't get complained about to suddenly come up with some draconian new system and the second point is that as soon as you have even what they call a dab of statute you give away a vital principle, freedom of the press and freedom of expression." Brian Cathcart is a journalism professor and founder of Hacked Off, an organisation which campaigns for reform. SOUNDBITE: Brian Cathcart, Hacked Off campaign founder saying (English) "We have a problem of serial libel. That's to say that newspapers gang up together and libel them and then apologize and pay damages and then it happens again, six months later or a year later. Now, nobody's learning any lessons there and the role of a regulator is to go in and say what's wrong with your process that you keep doing this?" Whatever the judge recommends, the report won't be binding - it will still be up to politicians to decide whether to implement the proposals.