British judge Brian Leveson, who investigated News Corp.'s phone-hacking scandal, issued his long-awaited report on Thursday, recommending the formation of an independent regulator with the power to fine media outlets and journalists for ethics violations. Leveson said the government shouldn't set up the watchdog. "It would be up to the press to come forward with their own body," he said. Prime Minister David Cameron, who asked Leveson to prepare the report in the aftermath of a scandal that forced the closure of Rupert Murdoch's 168-year-old News of the World tabloid, told Parliament he agrees with Leveson's recommendation, but opposed the idea of passing laws to establish a watchdog. Do journalists need someone looking over their shoulders, or would that be an assault on freedom of the press?
This would be disastrous for the cause of freedom: The behavior of Murdoch's reporters was "odious," says John Gapper at Financial Times, but that's no reason to rein in press freedom, which a free society requires. This is a "a vital, scary moment" for democracy. If Cameron follows Leveson's recommendations, the U.K. will head down "a slippery, yet well-trodden, slope... to the landscape of the Soviet Union or China."
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Something must be done: It's a bit unfair to accuse Leveson's supporters of wanting "to crush the freedom of the press," says Tom Chivers at Britain's Daily Telegraph. "They might simply believe Lord Justice Leveson when he says that statutory underpinning is the only way to make independent regulation work." This is a complex issue, and "everyone has legitimate worries." Fear-mongering won't get us anywhere; what we need is a reasoned debate about what to do.
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Privacy is as precious as press freedom: The bottom line here, says Zoe Margolis at Britain's Guardian, is that unethical journalists "wreaked havoc on the lives of innocent people" by hacking into their cellphones, trampling their privacy in the process. If that means the media need some supervision, so be it. The press "needs to be judged not just on its veracity, or on its ferociousness in holding those in power to account, but also on how it treats those it has imposed upon."
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