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03/19/2013

Does U.K. press regulation exist?

Leveson
Lord Leveson and (part of) his report. (Reuters) 

The British media has found itself in a most unusual spot: at the very centre of the story, as the subject, rather than the medium. 

Last year saw the finish of the inquiry headed by Lord Justice Leveson, who examined, in detail, the practices of British newspapers. His work was prompted by the phone hacking scandal, which ultimately saw the tabloid News of the World shuttered, and resulted in the arrests of journalists, with charges laid against some big names in the U.K. press.

Lord Leveson published his report in November, and since then, the British government has been noodling over what to do. This week: a solution, approved by all three major parties in Westminster. It's not simple -- but how could anything which resulted from months of hearings, nearly 200 witnesses, and reams of written statements be simple?

The main proposal is that an independent press regulator, which could impose fines of up to a million pounds and force papers to print prominent apologies, be established. No one would be forced to opt in, but harsher penalties might befall those who didn't. The U.K. newspapers were busy examining the fallout this morning, and the BBC News website has a comprehensive roundup here.

Announcing the plan in the House of Commons on Monday, Prime Minister David Cameron very rightly paid tribute to the extremely courageous people who came forward to tell their stories to Lord Leveson - the families of victims of crime, like Bob and Sally Dowler, who lost their 13-year-old daughter Milly, and then had their lives horribly invaded at a terrible time. Here's the Hansard transcript of Cameron's remarks.

Examining the wrongdoings of some in our profession is absolutely correct. But Cameron also acknowledged "the vast majority of decent, law-abiding journalists, who want to get back to doing their job." 

And to illustrate the good that journalism can do, Cameron quoted another prime minister, Winston Churchill: "A free press is the unsleeping guardian of every other right that free men prize; it is the most dangerous foe of tyranny."

Jennifer Quinn is a foreign affairs and investigative reporter at the Star. As a correspondent for the Associated Press, based in London, she wrote extensively about British politics. Follow her on Twitter: @JQStar

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