The long-awaited report from the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics was published yesterday, making calls for new laws to support the formation of a tough new watchdog.
The recommendations fall short of new statutory control of the press, instead calling for legislation to be used to create a new, independent press watchdog.
In a televised statement following the publication of the report, Lord Justice Leveson said: "The press has wreaked havoc in the lives of innocent people for many decades."
The Leveson Inquiry was convened by Prime Minister David Cameron on 13 July 2011, in response to claims that journalists at the News of the World had routinely hacked into the phones of celebrities and the families of victims of crime and soldiers killed in the Iraq war.
The Inquiry was also asked to look at claims that journalists were guilty of paying bribes to public officials including civil servants and police officers in return for information.
The Inquiry heard evidence from its first witnesses on 14 November 2011, with Lord Justice Leveson acknowledging the crucial role that the press plays in keeping a check on public life.
"The press provides an essential check on all aspects of public life. That is why any failure within the media affects all of us. At the heart of this Inquiry, therefore, may be one simple question: who guards the guardians?"
The Inquiry has expressly stopped short of giving politicians or governments the power to hold the press to account, instead seeking to use legislation to create a new press watchdog with the power to fine newspapers up to £1m or 1% of turnover for breaches of its code of conduct. Legislation was needed, the report concludes, to ensure that all media companies participate.
The legal framework would then support press freedom and provide stability and assurance to the public that the watchdog is independent. The press itself would then decide how the watchdog should operate.
The law would also create a system for arbitration, allowing newspapers and claimants to avoid costly libel actions. Instead claimants would be encouraged to use arbitration and would then be penalised in the damages they could receive if they refuse arbitration and go straight to court.
The report proposes a new 'kite mark' system for publications to demonstrate their participation in the scheme and a hotline for journalists to anonymously give information when they feel that they are being asked to act in contravention of the new code of conduct.
Ofcom, the independent communications regulator, should be made responsible for conducting an audit of the work of the watchdog every two years and could also act as a fallback regulator for any publications that refuse to join the scheme.
Under the proposals, the Information Commissioner would also be given beefed-up powers to prosecute papers for breaches of data protection legislation.
One of the most controversial measures included in the report would see journalists lose the right to protect their sources in court in all circumstances except when they had secured signed contracts with their source to protect their identity.
The Prime Minister told the Commons he broadly welcomed the reports findings, but remained wary of statutory intervention in press regulation.
"We should be wary of any legislation that has the potential to infringe free speech and the free press," he said.
"The danger is that this would create a vehicle for politicians whether today or some time in the future to impose regulation and obligations on the press," he added.
His coalition partner Nick Clegg was wholly supportive of the reports recommendations, saying that it was time to change the law to ensure an independent regulator remained independent for good. Labour also supports the plans in their entirety.
The Leveson Inquiry (Government Documents)