Leveson closes with warnings on too much regulation

Wed, Jul 25, 2012, 01:00

LONDON – The Leveson Inquiry into press behaviour in Britain ended yesterday with chairman Lord Justice Leveson thanking journalists who had reported on the eight-month inquiry.

He said he would produce a report as soon as he “reasonably could”.

Rhodri Davies QC, representing News International, told Lord Leveson that Rupert Murdoch, the owner of the News of the World, had learned lessons too hard to forget.

The inquiry was launched in the wake of allegations that journalists at the now-extinct Sunday tabloid had hacked phones.

“The News of the World, a 168-year-old paper, has been felled,” said Mr Davies. He cautioned Lord Leveson against “overburdening” the press with regulation.

“The excesses of the press have occurred when the search for a story has overcome the boundaries of privacy,” he said. “Whatever the regulatory solution may be, lessons have been learned.”

He said most people in the UK read tabloid and “mid-market” newspapers – not broadsheets.

A lawyer representing Associated Newspapers, which owns the Daily Mail, delivered a similar message. “My clients feel we have heard too few speaking up for the popular press,” said Jonathan Caplan QC.

“In order to produce public interest journalism you need to have journalism that interests the public. It is important there is no groundswell of elitism whereby the minority dictate what the majority can read.”

However, another editor, Alan Rusbridger of the Guardian, raised concerns about News International “dominance” of the UK media. Mr Rusbridger said many people had thought it a “bad thing” to fall out with the group.

He suggested that abuses happened because of the remarkable position News International had achieved. “Many people from all walks of life believed it was a good thing to keep in with this company and a bad thing to fall out with them,” he said.

“It seems highly likely that many of the abuses uncovered by the inquiry would not have happened had News International not been allowed to achieve such a remarkable dominance of the media in the UK.”

Police failed the public by not “properly investigating” phone hacking in the past, a barrister told the inquiry. David Sherborne said there had been a “nauseating closeness” between “certain members of the police” and the press.

Mr Sherborne, who represents celebrities who say their phones were hacked by tabloid journalists, dubbed some former senior Metropolitan Police officers “the lunching classes”. – (PA)