Leveson Report calls for whistleblower line for press abuses, conscience clause in journalists contracts
The Leveson Inquiry into news-gathering techniques in the British media Thursday made scathing criticisms of News Corp.'s behavior and recommended the establishment of a new, independent regulator to monitor press behavior and establish stricter ethical standards.
The report slams the response of News Corp. executives to revelations that staffers at its U.K. tabloid News of the World had engaged in illegal wiretapping to obtain scoops.
"Most responsible corporate entities would be appalled that employees were or could be involved in the commission of crime in order to further their business. Not so at the News of the World," a 46-page executive summary of the report reads. "When the police had sought to execute a warrant, they were confronted and driven off by the staff at the newspaper. Cooperation, if provided, was minimal. The two that were sentenced to terms of imprisonment were paid very substantial sums as compensation for loss of employment when they were released."
A spokesman for News Corp. did not immediately respond to request for comment.
The 2,000-page report criticizes the News of the World staff for failing to turn its investigative eyes onto dubious practices at the paper, preferring to cling to the now discredited explanation that the illegal activity was the work of "one rogue reporter."
The massive report, overseen by Judge Brian Leveson, runs nearly 2,000 pages. The Leveson Inquiry was formed last summer in the wake of the phone hacking and bribery scandal that engulfed News Corp.'s U.K. operations. News Corp. shut down News of the World in 2011 amid public outrage after it was revealed that reporters hacked the phone of 13-year old murder victim Milly Dowler, as well as celebrities such as Hugh Grant and Steve Coogan. To write the report, Leveson grilled News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch, as well as top U.K. leaders such as former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Prime Minister David Cameron
Thursday's report takes pains to emphasize that reporting abuses were not limited to staffers at the News of the World or to News Corp.-owned papers.
"Too many stories in too many newspapers were the subject of complaints from too many people, with too little in the way of titles taking responsibility, or considering the consequences for the individuals involved," the executive summary reads.
To guard against future abuses, the report recommends establishing an independent board without any working editors or politicians to oversee news organizations. Leveson's report says the board should hear complaints against news organizations about breaches of standards and order appropriate actions to redress these grievances. In addition, it calls for the regulatory body to promote ethical reporting by establishing a whistle-blowing hotline and encouraging its members to include a "conscience clause" in journalists' contracts that will protect them if they refuse to perform dubious news-gathering practices.
"In the light of all that has been said, I must recognise the possibility that the industry could fail to rise to this challenge and be unable or unwilling to establish a system of independent self-regulation that meets the criteria," the executive summary reads. "I have made it clear that I firmly believe it to be in the best interest of the public and the industry that it should indeed accept the challenge. What is more, given the public entitlement to some accountability of the press, I do not think that either the victims or the public would accept the outcome if the industry did not grasp this opportunity. Neither do I think the public would find it acceptable if I were to overlook the consequences of the industry doing so."
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