New York Times slates Leveson: Remedies 'misplaced, excessive and potentially dangerous'

One of the strongest voices raised against the Leveson recommendations comes today from America . The New York Times says millions of Britons were "justifiably outraged" over last year’s serial revelations of illegal and unethical behavior by the powerful and influential tabloid press in Britain.

Leveson: 'A big step in the wrong direction.'

In an editorial, however, the paper says the regulatory remedies proposed " seem misplaced, excessive and potentially dangerous to Britain’s centuries-old traditions of a press free from government regulation."

The NYT - whose new CEO is Mark Thompson, former Director General of the BBC - says the commission, led by Lord Leveson, catalogued the "glaring misdeeds" of Rupert Murdoch’s sensationalist tabloid, The News of the World, now no longer published.

Noting, among other things, the tabloid’s “reckless disregard for accuracy,” and “lack of respect for individual privacy,” the report called on Parliament to create an independent regulatory body with the authority to fine newspapers up to $1.6 million for violating its guidelines.

This new organisation, which newspapers could join voluntarily, would replace the largely ineffective Press Complaints Commission, run by the news industry itself, which is supposed to uphold a code of ethical journalistic practices agreed to by participating publications.

Creating an independent regulatory body would require new legislation.

"To his credit, Prime Minister David Cameron seems opposed to proceeding in that direction," says the Times.

"Conscientious members of all political parties should oppose it as well," The Times editorial goes on, "British newspapers operate in a harsher legal environment than the American press. They must navigate an Official Secrets Act, which criminalizes the publication of classified information and a plaintiff-friendly libel law, which lacks American-style exceptions for public figures.

" But they have been free from government licensing since 1694. A regulatory panel backed by law is a big step in the wrong direction.

"Press independence is as essential a bulwark of political liberty in Britain as it is everywhere. That independence should not, and need not, be infringed upon now."

The Times say much of the conduct described in the Leveson report — hacking into voice mail messages of ordinary citizens and illegally obtaining medical records — is not news gathering.

"They are illegal acts under British law. So are bribery, corrupt relations with police officials and political figures and other abuses attributed to the tabloid press.

"In such instances, newspapers can claim no shield against civil lawsuits or criminal prosecution. Those remedies, not government regulation, are the right ways to stop the kind of behaviour alleged against The News of the World, and good deterrents against misconduct by other papers."

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