HERE are some of the questions being asked about why the Leveson Inquiry was set up and what it might conclude.
Q: WHAT IS THE LEVESON INQUIRY LOOKING INTO?
A: The inquiry is looking at the culture, practices and ethics of the press. Its terms of reference require it to consider the contacts and the relationships of national newspapers with politicians and the police, and the conduct of each group, as well as the extent to which the policy and regulatory framework has failed and whether there was a failure to act on previous warnings about media misconduct.
Q: WHAT HAS LEVESON BEEN ASKED TO DO?
A: The inquiry has been asked to make recommendations for a new more effective policy and regulatory regime for the Press, which will support the integrity and independence of the Press and media plurality, while encouraging the highest ethical and professional standards.
It will make recommendations about the future conduct of politicians and police in relation to the Press and how future concerns about the media should be dealt with by the authorities.
Q: IS THE GOVERNMENT BOUND TO IMPLEMENT LEVESON’S RECOMMENDATIONS?
A: No. It will be for the Government to decide how to take forward any recommendations the report makes. But Prime Minister David Cameron has said that he intends to implement Leveson’s recommendations, provided they are not “bonkers”.
Q: WHY WAS THE INQUIRY SET UP?
A: The Prime Minister commissioned the inquiry in July 2011 following allegations of illegal phone-hacking at the News of the World, including claims that the voicemail messages of missing teenager Millie Dowler may have been intercepted. The allegations brought to a head a growing tide of complaints from celebrities and politicians that the Sunday tabloid eavesdropped on their calls.
In the days before Lord Justice Leveson was named to lead the inquiry on July 13 2011, the News of the World was shut down and the paper’s owner News Corporation withdrew its bid for total control of satellite broadcaster BSkyB.
Q: IS LEVESON LOOKING INTO THE SPECIFIC ALLEGATIONS SURROUNDING THE NEWS OF THE WORLD?
A: Not during Part One of his inquiry, which is now reaching its conclusion. Part Two of the inquiry, which will not begin until police investigations and court cases are over, is due to look into the extent of unlawful or improper conduct within News International and other media organisations. Lord Justice Leveson himself has raised questions over whether there will be “any value to be gained” by going ahead with Part Two, given that it will not take place for a considerable time and the issues involved may have been settled by then.
Q: WHAT IS THE BIGGEST DECISION LEVESON HAS TO TAKE?
A: The most controversial issue for the judge to decide is whether the Press can be trusted to continue to regulate itself or whether a new form of statutory regulation, enforceable by law, should be introduced.
Q: WHAT REGULATION IS THE PRESS SUBJECT TO AT THE MOMENT?
A: The British print media has been subject to a system of voluntary self-regulation since 1953, when the Press Council was established in response to a Royal Commission report. Continuing complaints about breaches of privacy and lack of redress led to the establishment of the Calcutt Review of press regulation and the replacement in 1991 of the industry-dominated Press Council by the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), which has a majority of lay members.
Critics complain that the PCC has insufficient teeth, as its greatest sanction is the issuing of a critical adjudication which the paper must publish with “due prominence”. Supporters of the system say that this is an effective mechanism, as editors do not like to publish adjudications against them.
Q: IS THERE SUPPORT FOR STATUTORY REGULATION?
A: An opinion poll for campaign group Hacked Off suggested in October that there was strong public support for an independent press regulator backed by law, with 78% of those questioned by pollsters YouGov backing this option. Hacked Off, which represents many alleged victims of hacking, argues that voluntary self-regulation has failed and calls for a new system of regulation independent of both the industry and the Government.
The then Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke said in a submission to Leveson in July that he believed a new regulator was needed and was not convinced that giving it a statutory underpinning “would amount to state control of the Press”. Labour shadow culture secretary Harriet Harman said the media should not be given another chance to regulate itself.
But the Press is strongly opposed to statutory regulation, warning that it will put newspapers’ independence at risk. In what was widely regarded as a bid to fend off statutory regulation, PCC chair Lord Hunt and Lord Black of the Press Standards Board of Finance announced plans earlier this year for a new beefed-up self-regulation body to replace the PCC, with tougher sanctions and an investigative arm to probe wrong-doing.
Education Secretary Michael Gove warned Leveson during his appearance before the inquiry in June to “think carefully about the effects of regulations” on free speech, arguing that the best course of action was to ensure existing laws were “sufficient to punish those who have been responsible for wrongdoing”. And Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said ministers should be “very, very, very reluctant” to legislate.
Q: WHAT DOES THE PRIME MINISTER THINK?
A: That is the multi-million pound question. A rash of reports suggested in October that the PM would reject statutory regulation, no matter how strongly it was recommended by Leveson. In response, a group of 60 alleged hacking victims - including Hugh Grant and Charlotte Church - wrote to Mr Cameron to urge him to keep an open mind.
In a TV interview on October 7, Mr Cameron said he did not want “heavy-handed state intervention” in the activities of the Press.
Stressing that he did not want to prejudge Lord Justice Leveson’s report, the PM said: “We have got to have a free Press. They have got to be free to uncover wrongdoing, to follow the evidence, to do the job in our democracy that they need to do. But on the other hand, it is quite clear people have been abused, people’s families and lives have been torn up by Press intrusion. The status quo is not an option. I fully intend... to put in place a sensible regulatory system.”