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British judge calls for stiff fines for snooping press

United Kingdom,Crime/Disaster/Accident,Media, Thu, 29 Nov 2012 IANS

London, Nov 29 (IANS) A British judge, asked to probe the press following revelations that the News Of The World hired a detective to hack into the phone of a murdered schoolgirl, has called for numerous changes to press regulation, including fines of up to one million pounds on newspapers if they overstep the mark.

In a 2,000-page report, Lord Justice Leveson called for the Press Complaints Commission to be scrapped and independent regulator Ofcom be given a key role in overseeing a new, independent, self-regulatory body, Sky News reported.

Leveson, in a public address, said the press had ignored its own code of conduct in a way that had "wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people".

There had been a "recklessness in prioritising sensational stories" irrespective of the harm that may be caused, he said.

The judge expects publishers to sign up to the system voluntarily, and said "convincing incentives" should be supplied to encourage them to do so.

The new regulator should be governed by an independent board, under the oversight of media watchdog Ofcom, according to the report on press standards.

The document said the new body should be appointed in a wholly open and transparent way with no influence from industry or government.

The findings came 16 months after Leveson was asked to investigate the press and after months of evidence from celebrities, politicians, media figures and the police.

Prime Minister David Cameron set up the probe following national outrage at revelations that the News Of The World hired a private detective to hack murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler's phone.

The judge said politicians of all parties had developed "too close a relationship with the press in a way which has not been in the public interest".

He also exonerated the Metropolitan Police, which has faced criticism for its original investigation into the phone hacking in 2006.

He said police had made poor decisions that were poorly executed but said the force's integrity was not challenged.

Many key figures took part in the inquiry, due to cost up to six million pounds. They included Bob and Sally Dowler, Kate McCann, actor Hugh Grant, former F1 boss Max Mosley and former deputy prime minister John Prescott.

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