Hacking Victims’ Group Urges U.K. to Enact Leveson Rules

Britain should enact a judge’s proposals for a new press watchdog without making changes to appease opponents, an advocacy group for victims of voice-mail interception by News Corp.’s News of the World told lawmakers.

Justice Brian Leveson, who oversaw a yearlong media-ethics probe, said in November Britain should create an independent, voluntary regulator backed by law and empowered to issue fines. The recommendations are already a “minimum compromise” between the public’s right to privacy and tabloids’ free speech, Brian Cathcart, the director of Hacked Off, said today in London.

Leveson “created a coherent package,” Cathcart told Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport Committee in testimony. “If you start picking out a piece here and a piece there, it won’t work; the whole package should be non-negotiable.”

Leveson’s 1,987-page report has divided lawmakers who must decide its fate. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, who ordered the inquiry, has said he doesn’t support a law underpinning the new regulator, unlike Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and the opposition Labour Party.

Leveson said a regulator that’s formally recognized by law and empowered to issue fines of as much as 1 million pounds ($1.57 million) for serious infractions may discourage misconduct in the future. Newspapers that declined to join the regulator may also set themselves up for higher “exemplary” damages in civil cases brought by victims, Leveson had said.

The new regulator “needs to be strong and robust” to withstand challenges from the press, Cathcart said. “The best way to do that is with a statute.”

Cameron told newspaper editors in his Downing Street office in London on Dec. 4 that they need to design a regulator sufficiently independent to placate those calling for full implementation of Leveson’s recommendations.

News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch, who testified before Leveson, closed the News of the World in July 2011 in response to public anger over the hacking scandal. News Corp., based in New York, has spent more than $315 million on civil settlements, legal fees and costs of closing the title.

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