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U.K. Inquiry: News Media 'Wreaked Havoc,' New Watchdog Needed

NPR icon by Mark Memmott
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Saying that the British news media have "caused real hardship and, on occasion, wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people whose rights and liberties have been disdained," the judge appointed to sort out the mess after the U.K.'s tabloid scandal has recommended creation of an independent watchdog. It would be charged with "promoting high standards of journalism and protecting the rights of individuals."

"Lord Justice Leveson has recommended the introduction of the first press law in Britain since the 17th century," as The Guardian writes.

Covering nearly 2,000 pages, Leveson's report and recommendations stem from the scandal that began when it was discovered that one of Rupert Murdoch's U.K. tabloids had hacked into the cellphone of a missing teenage girl — who, it later was learned, had been murdered. The scandal quickly widened as damning evidence emerged of eavesdropping on royals and celebrities and bribes paid to police and public officials for information.

The executive summary (about 55 pages) of Leveson's report is here.

The BBC sums up Leveson's recommendation about a watchdog this way:

"Lord Leveson said he wanted to see a major new self-regulatory body, independent of serving editors, to uphold press standards and the right of victims of intrusion to seek redress. That new body should be backed by legislation designed to assess whether the new industry regulator was doing its job properly. The judge said the legislation would enshrine, for the first time, a legal duty on the government to protect the freedom of the press."

Leveson writes that:

"An independent regulatory body should be established, with the dual roles of promoting high standards of journalism and protecting the rights of individuals. That body should set standards, both through a code and in relation to governance and compliance. The body should: hear individual complaints against its members about breach of its standards and order appropriate redress while encouraging individual newspapers to embrace a more rigorous process for dealing with complaints internally; take an active role in promoting high standards, including having the power to investigate serious or systemic breaches and impose appropriate sanctions; and provide a fair, quick and inexpensive arbitration service to deal with any civil law claims based upon its members' publications."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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