Report Proposes Tougher Oversight For British Press

Nov 29, 2012

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In Britain, Brian Leveson, the judge who has spent eight months probing tabloid news excesses, has just issued his suggestions for reigning in Britain's sometime-rambunctious press. Prime Minister David Cameron ordered the wide-ranging inquiry in the wake of revelations of illegal phone-hacking at the Murdoch-owned News of the World and other newspapers. The victims included actors Hugh Grant and Sienna Miller, as well as the parents of a murdered teenager and other crime victims.

Journalist Vicki Barker joins us from London.

Hey, Vicki.

VICKI BARKER, BYLINE: Hey.

GREENE: Long-awaited announcement, it sounds like. Set the scene for us.

BARKER: Well, Lord Justice Leveson didn't just hear from the victims of illegal phone-hacking and other privacy invasions. He also looked into allegations that some journalists paid police officers for scoops, and that the relationships between journalists, police and politicians got a little too cozy for the good of British democracy. In other words, not one, but three institutions may have been undermined by some shady dealings on the part of some papers.

Now, the question he was asked to answer is: Does Britain need unprecedented laws to stop these abuses, or can the press continue to regulate itself? You can probably guess what the journalists want. But a number of politicians from all three main parties also oppose any new regulation of newspapers.

GREENE: Any regulation of newspapers. That's something that would just send chills into journalists in the United States. I mean, what did you hear from him? Did he just say it got so bad, this had to be done?

BARKER: I have to say, the report itself is 2,000 pages long. But in a statement a little while ago, Lord Leveson was, I'd call it, forensically scathing about the British press, saying too many papers have ridden roughshod over the moral and ethical codes devised by the industry itself.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

LORD JUSTICE BRIAN LEVESON: This has damaged the public interest, caused real hardship and, on occasion, wreaked havoc in the lives of innocent people.

GREENE: Wreaked havoc into the lives of innocent people. So, Vicki, what is Leveson proposing, here?

BARKER: Well, he said there should be a law to underpin a new system of regulation, and he urged the press to come up with their suggestions for that. But he repeatedly insisted this would not amount to government control of the press. There would a contract between the press and this new, totally independent watchdog, but a contract with enforcement powers - not his job, he said, but parliament's.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

LEVESON: The ball moves back into the politician's court. They must now decide who guards the guardians.

BARKER: Leveson said his admittedly limited inquiries had uncovered no evidence of widespread police corruption. He did say the relationship between politicians and the press has been far too close for decades, and that that needs to change.

GREENE: We'll be watching reaction, obviously, to what happened today. But there are a lot of other strings to this whole scandal that are still ongoing.

BARKER: Absolutely, I mean, including the whole question of criminal charges and the extent to which Rupert Murdoch's press organs were involved. And Leveson himself said his scope for calling witnesses was limited by the fact that many of the actors are the subject of ongoing criminal investigations. British police are conducting three separate criminal investigations into possible illegal practices at these and other UK papers.

GREENE: All right, journalist Vicki Barker, following the story for us in London. Vicki, thanks.

BARKER: Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.