UK phone-hacking judge calls for journalists' help

LONDON Thu Jul 28, 2011 6:46am EDT

LONDON (Reuters) - The judge in charge of the public inquiry into alleged phone hacking by the British media urged people Thursday not to close ranks and called for journalists to help in his investigation, as he set out its broad outlines.

The inquiry, looking into the media's relationship with the public, police and politicians, was set up after a phone-hacking scandal that shocked the country and saw the closure of Britain's biggest Sunday newspaper the News of the World.

It also led to the resignations of two of the country's top policemen, to News Corp dropping its bid for BSkyB, and the appearance of News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch and his son James in front of parliament to answer questions.

Although the allegations of phone hacking have centered around the News of the World, Lord Justice Brian Leveson has been given scope by Prime Minister David Cameron to look at all media.

"It may be tempting for a number of people to close ranks and suggest that the problem is or was local to a small group of journalists then operating at the News of the World," Leveson said at a news conference.

"But I would encourage all to take a wider picture of the public good and help me grapple with the length, width and depth of the problem.

"I would rather invite editors, proprietors of magazines and journalists to assist me by providing a wide range of examples of what is contended to be appropriate for one reason or another across the fullest range of titles," Leveson added.

He did not specify whom he might call, but said he would use his powers to call for witness statements and any relevant documents as soon as possible.

He said he would not have accepted the role had he "the slightest doubt" about his position.

It emerged last week that he had attended functions with Rupert Murdoch's son-in-law, but that he had informed Cameron before his appointment was announced.

Leveson, who will sit with six panelists, will focus the inquiry on the "culture, practices and ethics of the press" in the context of its relationship with the public, police and politicians.

He will look at press regulation, which currently works on a self-regulatory basis and which has been widely criticized for being too weak.

The inquiry is due to start in September. Cameron has asked him to carry out the first part of it in 12 months, but the judge said he would "strive to do so, but not at all cost."

The judge said he would focus in the first instance on the relationship between the press and the public and regulation.

Cameron has also asked him to look into the relationship between the press and the police.

A police investigation is also under way examining possible criminal behavior by the media and corruption in the police, and Leveson said he would seek advice from the director of public prosecutions on the extent to which he could delve.

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