Leveson enquiry opens up possibility of a UK First Amendment

29 Nov 2012

A nine-month investigation by Lord Justice Leveson into the UK hacking scandal that engulfed the Murdoch media empire concluded there was obvious collusion between News International executives and the London Met. New legislation will create an independent regulator to replace the Press Council, but he said the UK government must protect the freedom of the press.

In revealing his findings today, Leveson said a new self-regulatory body will be established by statute, headed by an independent board, that would be free from any influence of government or industry.

Members of industry that opt not to be regulated will find they will be policed instead by the communications watchdog Ofcom.

The hacking scandal blew up when it emerged that the News of the World hacked the phone of a dead schoolgirl, 13-year-old Milly Dowler. It led to the resignation of the chief executive of News International Rebekah Brooks, as questions arose about the practices of journalists in the reckless pursuit of sensational stories and how deeply phone hacking was ingrained in newspapers.

In terms of the possibility of a First Amendment-style law, Leveson said new legislation should allow for an independent regulator to be organised by the press industry, but that the UK government must have a duty to uphold and protect the freedom of the press.

The new regulator will have the power to fine publishers 1pc of turnover, with the maximum fine standing at stg£1m.

He said the new body must have powers to investigate serious breaches of the code.

Leveson recommended that the new regulator should also have powers to swiftly deal with libel claims in a way that should be quick, fair and inexpensive and said frivolous claims should be struck out at an early stage.

He described the newspapers’ pursuit of stories as reckless and the damage to families like the Dowlers, the McCanns and TV host Elle Macpherson’s former adviser, whose phones were hacked, as devastating.

“There has been a willingness to deploy covert surveillance, blagging and deception in circumstances where it is extremely difficult to see any public interest justification,” Leveson said.

A full copy of the report published today can be accessed online.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years