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UK panel to investigate whether country needs tougher media regulations

UK Lord Justice Brian Leveson [Guardian profile], head of an investigative panel into the recent media phone hacking scandal, said at a press conference Thursday that the panel will investigate the overall "culture, practices and ethics of the press." Prime Minister David Cameron [official website] announced earlier this month [speech transcript] the seven-member panel to investigate journalism practices in the nation. Leveson said the panel will investigate the media and reporters' relationship with police and politicians, as well as the tactics media agents use to get information. A report, with any recommendations for reform, will be published in a year. Leveson gave more details on the panel's role and powers Thursday, emphasizing that the panel will be calling witnesses and seeking "relevant documents." Leveson said that although he has the power to compel production of files of "inappropriate" practices, he would prefer editors and journalists to cooperate with his inquiry and volunteer information.

In addition to print media journalists, the panel will also investigate public broadcasters and bloggers. Leveson and his panel is empowered by the Inquiries Act of 2005 [materials]. The panel consists of Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty; George Jones, former Daily Telegraph political editor; Sir David Bell, former chairman of the Financial Times; Elinor Goodman, former Channel 4 political editor; Lord David Currie, former chairman of Ofcom; and Sir Paul Scott-Lee, former West Midlands chief constable. Hearings are set to begin in September.

Cameron created the panel after the recent allegations of "phone hacking" surfaced in the British media. Reports allege that journalists for the now-defunct British tabloid, News of the World [media website], a News Corporation (News Corp.) [media website] subsidiary, paid London police officers for private information, including telephone records, to use in various news stories, as well as hiring private investigators to "hack" into voicemail inboxes of notable people. Rebekah Brooks, former chief executive of News International (NI) and former editor of News of the World [media websites], was arrested [JURIST report] earlier this month by UK police on charges related to the scandal. She was questioned and released on bail hours later. Brooks was editor of News of the World from 2000 to 2003 when the phone of murdered teen Amanda Dowler was allegedly hacked. Brooks, along with a number of high-ranking executives and journalists, have been arrested in relation to phone hacking allegations. US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] announced that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) [official website] will open an inquiry [JURIST report] into whether journalists working for News Corp. and its subsidiaries violated US laws by hacking into the mobile phones of 9/11 [JURIST backgrounder] victims. Read more about the scandal in the JURIST op-ed Recent Scandal One in a Series of Legal Issues for News Corp [JURIST op-ed] by Dave Saldana [official profile], Communications Director at Free Press [advocacy website].

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