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Leveson Inquiry: Cameron To Reject State Regulation Of Press In Favour Of Tougher Self-Regulation

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The prime minister is keeping an open mind about the future regulation of the press and will make no decisions before he has seen Lord Justice Leveson's eagerly-anticipated report, Downing Street insisted on Saturday.

Amid mounting speculation about the David Cameron’s plans for a new framework to oversee the behaviour of newspapers, it was reported that he will reject full-blown state regulation.

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Will Cameron reject statutory regulation of the press?

The Mail on Sunday claimed that he would back a new, tougher model of self-regulation to replace the Press Complaints Commission - but with the threat that a statutory system could be brought in later if matters do not improve.

But on Saturday Number 10 played down any suggestion that the Prime Minister had already made up his mind on the Leveson report, which is supposed to be shrouded in secrecy until its publication on Thursday.

Cameron and some other senior Government figures will have access to it on Wednesday so that he can make a substantive response when it is released.

"The Prime Minister is open-minded about Lord Justice Leveson's report and will read it in full before he makes any decision about what to do," a spokesman said.

Victims of press intrusion are calling for an independent regulator, backed up by law, while editors fear that statutory regulation could serve only to limit press freedom.

Cameron set up the inquiry in July last year in response to revelations that the News of the World commissioned a private detective to hack murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler's phone after she disappeared in 2002.

This Thursday's report follows the first part of the Leveson Inquiry looking at the culture, practices and ethics of the press, and will include recommendations for press regulation.

Members of campaign group Hacked Off, including victims of press intrusion, want an independent regulator - possibly backed up by law to ensure newspapers comply.

Former Crimewatch presenter Jacqui Hames, who was placed under News of the World surveillance along with her husband, said victims wanted to "draw a line under all this".

"We want to be able to trust our journalists again and pick up our newspapers and be confident that what we're reading is accurate and it hasn't been obtained illegally or at the detriment of somebody's life," she said.

"We have a fantastic historical tradition of newspapers and journalism in this country and I would love to see that restored.

"It's a fantastic opportunity to look to the future so that in 50 years time people will look back and see this as a pivotal moment and a restoration of faith in our free press."

Film director Ed Blum, who said he discovered in 2011 that his phone was hacked in 2006, said: "Hacked Off is in no way trying to undermine freedom of expression, in fact it's the reverse, we're trying to uphold some of the moral and ethical points which should be embedded into every journalist's rulebook.

"If he (Lord Justice Leveson) suggests that there is an independent regulator which is underpinned by the law, that could be a very good way of securing a free press without the abuses which have happened so far."

Hacked Off director Professor Brian Cathcart said they wanted "something effective that will make a difference" - probably backed by law to give it the necessary "clout" - but said if the chairman found a way of doing that without law, they would be happy as long as it was effective.

But Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, called for "proportionality", saying he hoped Lord Justice Leveson had not only taken the "headline evidence" into account.

"Some of the points that came out were absolutely dreadful and nobody is trying to hide away from the fact that there were some pieces of behaviour in some parts of the press that were quite appalling," he said.

"But it's got to be seen in context - we want to see some proportionality.

"There's actually a very small number of people facing criminal charges to do with phone hacking, and they have only been charged, not been found guilty, and it's a small number compared to the number of journalists in this country."

He said the "appalling behaviour" was already covered by laws prohibiting phone hacking, libel and contempt of court, adding: "Absolutely nothing came out of Leveson that I know of which is not already covered by the legal restrictions on the press.

"You have got to be very careful that hard cases can make bad law or, in this case, could make bad regulation.

"The press in this country produces more than five million stories a year, most of which cause no complaint and from which comes no level of concern.

"It comes down to proportionality. There have been things that have been bad but you don't have to take the whole edifice down."

He said efforts to compare the statutory regulation of the press with regulating doctors or lawyers, or even broadcasters, were not looking at "like for like", and said people had a choice to buy a newspaper, compared to limited choice when it came to broadcasters.

"No one insists that you buy a newspaper, it's an absolutely free choice," he added.

"So the idea that newspapers should be regulated on the same basis as doctors, lawyers or even broadcasters where in effect we have no choice, it's just an absolute non-starter, you're not comparing like for like."

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