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Mixed reaction to reform proposals

Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations for reform of regulation of the press sparked widely-varying reactions among journalists, politicians, campaigners and victims of intrusion.

Civil liberties group Liberty - whose director Shami Chakrabarti served as an assessor in the inquiry team - welcomed the principal recommendation of a more robust and independent press self-regulator, but said it was unable to back the last-resort alternative of compulsory statutory regulation.

Ms Chakrabarti said: "Leveson's main proposal makes sense for the public, press and politicians alike.

"The press sets up a robust body - independent of Government and serving editors - and earns legal protections from needless challenges in court. The public gets confidence of greater access to justice and redress when things go wrong.

"What nobody needs and Liberty cannot support is any last-resort compulsory statutory press regulation - coming at too high a price in a free society."

Head of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) Lord Hunt said: "I do not want the message to go out from this country that the UK is bringing in a press law but we do have to make a fresh start with a new body and that is what I'm going to reveal.

"I did sense that Brian Leveson wants the press now to get on with it. He embraced a free press. What we have to make sure now is the press do not let him down. There is a huge opportunity here and we must seize it."

Former Formula 1 boss Max Mosley, who successfully sued the News Of The World for privacy damages over claims that he was involved in a "sick Nazi orgy", said it would be "astonishing" if the Government did not implement Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations.

He said: "It certainly is a very thorough document and it's in many respects better than one could have hoped.

"It would make the situation much better than it is now and what he has done is more or less give the press what the Hunt-Black proposals would want, but underpinning with a statutory to make sure there's no backsliding and no cheating.

"The only real omission is that if you want to stop something coming out because you find that they are going to breach your privacy, you would still have to go to court to do that, which of course is very expensive.

"I think it would be astonishing if the politicians didn't implement the report because no responsible politician could allow the current situation to continue."

Campaign group Hacked Off, which has represented some of those complaining of unwarranted press intrusion, said in a statement: "We welcome this carefully prepared and thorough report.

"The judge has rightly condemned the outrageous conduct of the press in the recent years.

"The crucial point is the importance he places on the complete independence of regulation from politicians and from the editors and proprietors, who run the wholly discredited PCC.

"He has proposed a system of voluntary and independent self-regulation. The proposals made by the industry do not come close to this ideal. What is needed is a regulator which can properly and effectively protect the victims of press misconduct.

"He has recommended that this be backed by legislation to protect the public and the press.

"These proposals are reasonable and proportionate and we call on all parties to get together to implement them as soon as possible.

"The press must be given a deadline. The inquiry is over. Now is the time for action."

Kirsty Hughes, chief executive of free speech group Index on Censorship, said: "Index urges that there is a serious, considered debate about Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations.

"We are worried about the statutory-voluntary approach to independent press regulation, which is similar to the Irish model, even if it is with oversight from Ofcom rather than politicians.

"However, we strongly welcome the proposal for cheap, effective arbitration, which Index on Censorship has led the way in advocating."

Nick Pickles, director of civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: "If Parliament votes on the press, the press isn't free. To split hairs between statutory underpinning and statutory regulation is not an acceptable distinction in a free and democratic country.

"However, Lord (Justice) Leveson is absolutely right to recognise that the current legal framework fails to protect privacy by not including the potential for those who steal or abuse personal data to face a jail sentence.

His voice, added to those of campaign groups and the Home Affairs and Justice committees of Parliament, sends a clear message to the Government that continued delay and inaction on this issue is unacceptable. Custodial sentences, already on the statute book, should be enacted immediately.

"The media must abide by the law, of course, but it must also be fearless in holding power to account. Even a slight diminishing of its undaunted view of power will bring comfort to those who seek to evade and avoid scrutiny. Every citizen would be worse off and we would be held up in lesser regimes around the world as justification for Governments muzzling the press."

Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, who gave evidence to the inquiry, said: "One thing that Leveson has uncovered is the level of collusion between press, politicians and the state to do over anyone seen as a threat to their interests and that includes the trade union movement.

"From the miners to the firefighters and right up to date with our struggles today on transport and public services, no stone has been left unturned in vilifying and slandering those with the guts to stand up and fight back."

Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, warned that detailed statutory underpinning of regulation could be dangerous.

He told Sky News: "What there can't be though, in my view, because it would take us back down that slippery slope, the 350 years back to licensing, is if you let politicians get too involved.

"What you can't have is too much detail in any kind of statutory underpinning, that's where the danger lies.

"Most politicians, once you give them a little nose into something, will try to find a very much wider thing down the line.

"We might have benign politicians now, but 10 years' time? That's the problem."

Labour MP Chris Bryant, who was a victim of phone hacking, said: "The biggest condemnation in this document is of politics over the last 30 years, because Lord (Justice) Leveson said we have all failed and sometimes we failed to act because we were too frightened about what would be written in newspapers about us personally or about our party politics.

"So I just hope that no politician will be frightened into not taking action where action really is needed and where the public really want it.

"You can't just keep on writing lies and hope that nobody is going to slap your wrist."

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