Britain's Leveson Inquiry: questions and answers

27th November 2012, Comments 0 comments

The Leveson Inquiry could prompt fundamental changes in the British newspaper industry when it hands down its verdict on Thursday.

Here are some key questions about the inquiry:

WHO IS LEVESON?

Brian Leveson, or Lord Justice Leveson as he is formally known, is one of Britain's most senior judges.

The 63-year-old was appointed by Prime Minister David Cameron in July 2011 as chairman of an inquiry into the ethics of the press following the phone-hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch's News of the World tabloid.

The bespectacled judge was the lead prosecutor in the 1995 trial of serial killer Rosemary West, who was convicted of murdering 10 women with her husband Fred West in their "House of Horrors" in Gloucester, western England, and is currently head of the Sentencing Council for England and Wales.

As head of the inquiry he is assisted by a panel of six people: a human rights activist, a retired police chief, a former telecoms regulator, two journalists and the former chairman of the Financial Times.

One of the most public faces of the inquiry has been the "Counsel to the Inquiry" Robert Jay, the bearded lawyer who has had a series of sparring matches with key witnesses.

WHAT ARE THE TASKS OF THE LEVESON INQUIRY?

The Leveson inquiry is divided into two parts.

The first part, which is due to report on Thursday, is examining the culture, practices and ethics of the media. It will focus in particular on the relationship of the press with the public, police and politicians.

The report will make recommendations on the future of press regulation "consistent with maintaining freedom of the press and ensuring the highest ethical and professional standards," according to its website.

The second part of the inquiry is into unlawful conduct within News International, the British newspaper wing of Murdoch's US-based News Corp. empire, but will not take place until after separate criminal proceedings have concluded.

WHO HAS TESTIFIED TO THE INQUIRY?

The Leveson inquiry has heard from 474 witnesses since November 2011.

The first group to testify were hacking victims, ranging from celebrities including actor Hugh Grant, singer Charlotte Church and Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, to the parents of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, the hacking of whose voicemails led to the establishment of the inquiry.

The second group was media figures including Rupert Murdoch and former News of the World editors Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson. The third group was politicians such as David Cameron and his predecessor Tony Blair.

WHAT RECOMMENDATIONS MIGHT IT MAKE -- AND DOES ANYONE HAVE TO LISTEN?

Leveson must decide whether to recommend that the press should be allowed to keep its current system of self-regulation -- albeit likely in a stronger form -- or whether a new form of statutory regulation backed up by law is necessary.

Cameron's government does not in theory have to take up Leveson's recommendations. Cameron has said that the "status quo is not an option" but there are reports that he might resist statutory regulation due to concerns about press freedom.

WHAT OTHER CRIMINAL AND CIVIL INQUIRIES ARE ONGOING?

British police have launched three separate criminal investigations.

Under Operation Weeting, which deals with phone hacking, there have been 25 arrests and eight people have been charged, including Brooks and Coulson.

Under Operation Elveden, which involves corrupt payments to officials, there have been 52 Elveden arrests and six people have been charged, again including Brooks and Coulson.

Under Operation Tuleta, which involves computer hacking and privacy breaches, there have been 18 arrests but no one has yet been charged.

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee of Britain's parliament also held a series of hearings into the hacking scandal. In a report published in May 2012 it said that Rupert Murdoch was unfit to lead a major global company.


© 2012 AFP

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