Leveson frustrated at wrangling over landmark press report
LONDON Oct 10 (Reuters) - The judge who oversaw a year-long inquiry into Britain's often unruly press said on Thursday he was frustrated his conclusions had been misconstrued as talks between politicians and editors over how newspapers should be policed face stalemate.
Prime Minister David Cameron is struggling to find a compromise between those demanding tougher regulation of newspapers, and angry newspaper barons and senior colleagues who argue the freedom of the press is in jeopardy.
"We have reached a position where the prime minister told me essentially we were stuck," said John Whittingdale, chairman of parliament's media committee.
Last November, senior judge Brian Leveson concluded a year-long public inquiry into press ethics with his 1,987-page report denouncing certain newspaper tactics and calling for an industry watchdog, enshrined in law, to regulate journalists' behaviour.
Cameron had ordered his review following public outrage over allegations that journalists on Rupert Murdoch's now defunct tabloid, the News of the World, had hacked mobile phone voicemail messages on an industrial scale to find stories.
In his first extensive public comments since releasing his report, Leveson told Whittingdale's committee the thorny decision over regulation was up to the politicians to sort out, and expressed disquiet that his findings were being used as a political football by the two sides.
"I certainly am very frustrated at representations of my report which are not accurate," said Leveson, who has become something of a hate figure for many newspapers.
"It would be quite wrong for me to comment on what is now a politically contentious issue."
On Tuesday, the government announced it had rejected plans put forward by the newspaper industry and instead opted to pursue a compromise proposal put forward by Cameron and the leaders of Britain's other major political parties.
Both aimed to implement Leveson's recommendations by creating a new regulator and arbitration facilities to handle complaints under a "royal charter", but the newspaper plan provided greater safeguards against political interference.
Papers are furious their proposal has been ditched, prompting Murdoch to tweet "print media about to be gagged to protect toffs", while those wanting reform still accuse Cameron of pandering to the press by delaying any final decision and calling for more discussions.
The stakes are high for Cameron, who has been accused of being too close to media executives and whose centre-right Conservative Party is trailing in the polls ahead of an election due in 2015.
The support of newspapers, the majority of which are naturally right-leaning, would be a boon to his chances of re-election and he has enjoyed more favourable coverage since ruling out any regulation backed by law.
"Both sides are arguing their version will deliver your recommendations, that they will establish a system which is essentially a 'Leveson' system," Whittingdale told the judge.
Hacked Off, a campaign group set up to represent victims of press abuse which includes the likes of actor Hugh Grant amongst its number, said Cameron appeared to be bowing to editors.
"Parliament has delivered its verdict, with overwhelming support from the public, and it's now up to Cameron to hold his nerve," said Professor Steven Barnett, a member of Hacked Off.
Meanwhile, Benedict Brogan, the deputy editor of the Daily Telegraph, said if negotiations failed, newspapers could refuse to sign up to a regulator imposed by parliament.
"The drive against the press led by Hacked Off is an effectively run political operation on behalf of the Left to shaft the centre-right media," he wrote on his blog on Wednesday. "Mr Cameron knows it but is struggling to resist."
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