Day of reckoning for Cameron and British press

Wed Nov 28, 2012 6:35pm EST
 
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By Michael Holden and Kate Holton

LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron faces a no-win dilemma on Thursday when a far-reaching inquiry into British newspapers delivers its verdict on how to curb the excesses of the country's notoriously aggressive press.

Cameron, who was embarrassed when details of his personal links to Rupert Murdoch and his media empire emerged at the inquiry, will have to decide whether to accept its findings, which risk dividing his coalition government and angering an already hostile press.

He will give his response to the House of Commons after the report is published at 1330 GMT, under scrutiny from the chamber's public gallery filled with high-profile figures who have campaigned for a clampdown on an industry they say ruins lives.

The inquiry was ordered by Cameron following public outrage at Murdoch's now defunct News of the World tabloid, whose journalists had hacked the phone messages of schoolgirl Milly Dowler, who was later found dead.

Exposing the cozy relationships between political leaders, police chiefs and press barons, the inquiry revealed the "dark arts" of journalists seeking ever more salacious stories in a bid to hold up dwindling circulation figures.

Huge attention will be focused on whether Lord Justice Brian Leveson, one of Britain's top judges, recommends a new body to regulate the press with powers enshrined in law, or merely says the existing system of self-regulation should be overhauled.

He could also criticise Cameron's government, including one of his most senior ministers, Jeremy Hunt, for close ties to Murdoch's News Corp and their handling of the company's aborted bid to take control of pay-TV group BSkyB in what would have been its largest acquisition.

The press, backed by some 80 members of parliament, has lobbied hard for Cameron to resist calls for legislation, arguing it would curb freedom of speech and mean newspapers requiring state approval for the first time since 1695.   Continued...

 
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron speaks during a news conference at the end of an EU leaders summit discussing the EU's long-term budget at the European Union (EU) council headquarters in Brussels November 23, 2012. REUTERS/Eric Vidal