UK & World News
PM: No Need For New Law On Press Regulation
David Cameron has sparked a major political row by expressing his "serious concerns and misgivings" about press regulation backed by law.
The Prime Minister broadly welcomed the principles of Lord Justice Leveson's 2,000-page report, in which the judge called for a new watchdog to curb press "havoc".
Mr Cameron agreed that keeping the status quo was not an option and said the press should be given a deadline to implement a new regulatory system.
But he was accused of "betrayal" by campaigners after rejecting the central recommendation that the regime would need to be supported by statute in order to command public confidence.
However, the Government is drafting legislation based on the report but only "to show it would not work", Downing Street sources said.
Mr Cameron's stance puts him on a collision course with his own deputy Nick Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband, who both endorsed the call for a regulator backed by law.
He said: "For the first time, we would have crossed the Rubicon, writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land.
"We should, I believe, be wary of any legislation which has the potential to infringe free speech and a free press.
"In this House, which has been a bulwark of democracy for centuries, we should think very, very carefully before crossing this line.
"The danger is that this would create a vehicle for politicians, whether today or some time in the future, to impose regulation and obligations on the press."
In an extraordinary move, Mr Clegg delivered his own statement after he and Mr Cameron failed to agree on a joint Government response.
Calling for action "without delay", he said: "Changing the law is the only way to give us all the assurance that the new regulator isn't just independent for a few months or years, but is independent for good."
Mr Miliband insisted: "We should put our trust in Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations."
Lord Justice Leveson's plans would see the Press Complaints Commission replaced with a new, independent self-regulatory body overseen by media watchdog Ofcom.
Newspapers would be expected to sign up to the new system voluntarily, with "convincing incentives" to persuade them. They would face fines of up to £1m if they went on to break the rules.
The new regulator should be governed by an independent board appointed without any influence from industry or government and run under the oversight of media watchdog Ofcom.
But any involvement of Ofcom will mean new legislation, a move fiercely opposed by the press and many politicians amid fears of restrictions on free speech.
The findings come 16 months after Lord Justice Leveson was asked to investigate the press and after months of evidence from celebrities, politicians, media figures and the police.
Mr Cameron set up the probe following national outrage at revelations that the News Of The World hired a private detective to hack murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler's phone.
Lord Justice Leveson said he had overseen the most concentrated look at the British press ever which had laid bare how it had repeatedly flouted its own rules.
He stressed that his aim was not to restrict the freedom of the press but declared: "There must be change."
"There have been too many times when, chasing the story, parts of the press have acted as if its own code, which it wrote, simply did not exist," he said.
"This has caused real hardship, and on occasion, wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people whose rights and liberties have been disdained.
"This is not just the famous but ordinary members of the public, caught up in events (many of them truly tragic) far larger than they could cope with but made much, much worse by press behaviour that, at times, can only be described as outrageous."
The judge dismissed the idea that events such as the hacking scandal at the News Of The World were "aberrations that do not reflect the culture, practices or ethics of the press as a whole".
He criticised editors for failing to be embarrassed at the level of intrusion and highlighted the use of covert surveillance, "blagging" and deception.
"There has been a recklessness in prioritising sensational stories, almost irrespective of the harm that the stories may cause and the rights of those who would be affected," he said.
Celebrities were treated as "fair game" and newspapers adopted a "significant and reckless disregard for accuracy", he added.
He also concluded that politicians of all parties had developed "too close a relationship with the press in a way which has not been in the public interest".
He noted that Mr Cameron went to "great lengths" to woo Rupert Murdoch's News International newspaper empire before the last general election.
He did dismiss the idea there had been any deal of newspaper support in return of policy favours but said the link created a "public perception" problem.
The report recommended more transparency about meetings between journalists and politicians but it cleared former culture secretary Jeremy Hunt over his handling of the bid by News Corp to take over BSkyB.
The Metropolitan Police, which has faced criticism for its original investigation into phone hacking in 2006, was also largely exonerated.
Lord Justice Leveson concluded that police had made poor decisions that were poorly executed but said the force's integrity was not challenged and there was no extensive evidence of police corruption.
In response, Met Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe said: "I have already taken decisive action to address issues that emerged at the Public Inquiry concerning the Metropolitan Police. Our priority now is the victims of phone-hacking and making sure they get justice."
The Leveson report says it is essential that the new press regulatory system is supported in law, but stresses that this is different to statutory regulation of the press.
In a stark warning, however, the judge warned that Ofcom could be used as a "backstop" regulator if the industry refused to cooperate with his system.
He expressed hope that a cross-party consensus on his recommendations could be achieved but this hope already appears dashed following the leaders' contrasting statements.
MPs on all sides are divided about how to proceed, with many insisting that any form of law governing the press would be a step too far.
The fact that Mr Clegg and Mr Cameron failed to hammer out a joint coalition response is an early indication of the likely parliamentary conflict ahead.
Key figures who took part in the inquiry, which has cost the taxpayer up to £6m, gathered at the QEII centre in London to read the report in advance of its official publication.
They included Bob and Sally Dowler, Kate McCann, actor Hugh Grant, former F1 boss Max Mosley and ex-deputy prime minister John Prescott.
Grant later reacted angrily to Mr Cameron's response, declaring on Twitter that the "buzzword is betrayal".
At a press conference, Hacked Off campaigners accused the Prime Minister of ripping the "heart and soul" out of the report.
Solicitor Mark Lewis, who represents the Dowler family, claimed Mr Cameron had failing the victims of phone hacking.
"Cautious optimism lasted for about 45 minutes and then the Prime Minister spoke and said he is not going to implement a report that he instigated," he said.
Downing Street later stressed that Mr Cameron had not ruled out enacting legislation but that he felt it was a "very, very big step" and wanted to test if it was necessary first.