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Leveson report: Britain needs independent press watchdog

A far-reaching inquiry into British newspapers has called for a new independent body, backed by law, to regulate the press. The inquiry was triggered by Rupert Murdoch's News of the World tabloid phone hacking scandal.

Reporting on his inquiry findings, Lord Justice Brian Leveson called for a new independent watchdog enshrined in law to regulate the press, at a news conference on Thursday in London.

"I do not think that either the victims or the public would accept the outcome if the industry did not grasp this opportunity," wrote Leveson in the 2,000 page report.

The inquiry was ordered by Prime Minister David Cameron following public outrage at media tycoon Rupert Murdoch's now defunct tabloid whose staff routinely hacked into phones, including that of schoolgirl Milly Dowler who was later found dead.

While Leveson's proposals will be welcomed by many, some editors and lawmakers fear any new regulator could limit the freedom of the press.

In his response to Leveson's report, Cameron said he supported the findings of the inquiry but said he was not in favor of new legislation to regulate the press.

"For the first time we would have crossed the Rubicon of writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land. We should I believe be wary of any legislation," Cameron told parliament on Thursday.

In a sign of a split at the very heart of government, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg - the leader of the Liberal Democrat junior coalition partner - said legislation was the only real way to establish a new self-regulatory body for the press.

"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," Clegg said.

In his report, Leveson assured the recommendations would in no way allow parliament to regulate the newspapers.

"Despite what is said about these recommendations by those who oppose them, this is not and cannot be characterized as, statutory regulation of the press," he said.

Britain already has a comparable independent body, Ofcom, for broadcast media - while in Germany, the Deutscher Presserat performs similar duties to those suggested by Leveson for print media.

"The ball moves back into the politicians' court: they must now decide who guards the guardians," Leveson told the news conference.

While acknowledging Britain's newspapers did much good, Leveson was critical about some of their behavior and how they had ignored complaints and "wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people."

hc/msh (Reuters, AP)