THE SCANDAL HAS TAMED THE TABLOID PRESS, AT LEAST TEMPORARILY
The inquiry was triggered by widespread revulsion in July when the public learned about the hacking of the phone of Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old girl who was abducted and murdered in 2002.
Since then, Britain's rambunctious tabloids have been noticeably more muted, running few of the exposes of celebrity sex-and-drug scandal that were long their trademark. It seems editors are running scared.
Celebrity publicist Max Clifford — who pocketed nearly 1 million pounds ($1.58 million) of Murdoch's money when his own hacking case was settled — told the inquiry that in the last few months "there are several major stories that would have dominated the headlines ... that haven't come out."
THE SYSTEM IS BROKEN, BUT THERE'S LITTLE AGREEMENT ABOUT HOW TO FIX IT
Almost every witness agreed that the current system of newspaper self-regulation through the Press Complaints Commission does not work.
The commission can impose penalties and order apologies in response to complaints about stories — but it has no legal powers, membership is voluntary and it is composed mainly of newspaper editors.
Sherborne, the hacking victims' lawyer, said that the current setup was "tantamount to handing the police station over to the mafia," and victims have called for stronger — if often undefined — measures to curb wayward journalists.
But journalists and newspaper editors fear such pressure could lead to some form of state regulation of the media. They would prefer to see a new independent regulator with stronger powers.
Financial Times editor Lionel Barber told the inquiry that the current PCC code "is pretty robust but it needs to be enforced and it needs to be credible."
He stressed, however, that the press must remain independent — "We will make mistakes and reputations may be damaged, but the principle of free expression is really critical."
NEWS CORP. IS SORRY — AND HAS DEEP POCKETS WHEN IT COMES TO COMPENSATING VICTIMS
The phone hacking scandal has rocked Rupert Murdoch's global News Corp. which has made strenuous public efforts to salvage its reputation.
The company has paid damages to settle lawsuits by about 60 people, including many of the inquiry's witnesses. Each settlement came with an apology in court for the damage and distress the illegal activity had caused.
The company has established a standards and ethics committee to root out wrongdoing, set aside a 20 million pound ($32 million) fund to compensate victims and has already paid out several million, including 2 million pounds to the Dowler family.
This week News Corp. revealed that the hacking scandal has cost it $87 million, most of it in legal fees.
And the story is far from over. About 60 more hacking lawsuits are being prepared.
The Leveson Inquiry has many more months of testimony in store. The second phase of hearings, looking at the media's relationship with the police, opens Feb. 27.
The Leveson Inquiry: http://www.levesoninquiry.org.uk/
Jill Lawless can be reached at: http://twitter.com/JillLawless
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