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British Politics and the Media – The Leveson Inquiry and Regulation

Complaints against press coverage have been dealt with by a Press Complaints Commission, funded by the newspaper industry, and looked at in relation to their Code of Practice. It was widely seen as a body that arbitrated between the press and those complaining rather than a regulatory body.

There was also the question of the relationship between politicians and the press, given that politicians of both main parties had cultivated a close relationship with Rupert Murdoch and other tabloid newspaper editors.

In 2006, after a complaint from Buckingham Palace about the interception of Prince William’s phone messages, the News of the World Royal Affairs Editor and a private investigator were convicted of phone hacking.

Despite this the Press Complaints Commission concluded that there was no evidence that phone hacking was widespread and Scotland Yard and the Information Commissioner’s Office failed to instigate a wider inquiry into the practice.

Further evidence of phone hacking and also illegal payments to members of the police force to obtain information began to occur, but the critical moment was when lawyers acting for the family of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler said that there was evidence that the News of the World had hacked her phone while the police were still investigating her disappearance and deleted messages thus disrupting the investigation. After the public reaction to this the News of the World was closed three days later.

Scope of the Leveson Inquiry

David Cameron announced an inquiry into:-

  • The culture, practices and ethics of the press including relationships between the press and politicians and also with the police and the current regulatory system
  • The extent of phone hacking and how allegations had been dealt with.

After taking evidence from a wide range of witnesses, the Leveson Report recommended:-

  • The need to have a regulatory body which is independent of the newspapers and has statutory backing
  • A much quicker way of dealing with complaints with an arbitration processes that is free to those complaining
  • A conscience clause for journalists so that they cannot be sacked if they refuse to a write a story that would break journalistic codes
  • Leveson also concluded that politicians had developed, “too close a relationship with the press in a way which has not been in the public interest”.