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UK press may face tougher regulation after hacking scandal

Protesters demonstrate outside the UK High Court with large James and Rupert Murdoch masks as former News International chairman James Murdoch gives evidence to The Leveson Inquiry on April 24, 2012 in London, England.

The British newspaper industry is bracing itself today for the publication of a report from an official inquiry into press standards. The inquiry -- chaired by a senior judge Lord Leveson -- was set up following a scandal over phone-hacking and is expected to criticize the newspapers for a series of abuses: The invasion of privacy, the bribery of police officers and the theft of data. Leveson is also expected to recommend a new, regulatory body to replace the current, ineffectual system of self-regulation by the press.

The British newspaper industry fears that this could lead to state censorship. And this might further undermine the reputation of the British papers at a time when it is in financial decline -- circulations are shrinking, advertising revenues are down.

Roger Alton, executive editor of the Times says state regulation could make matters worse:

“If Leveson imposes an extraordinarily tight system on the papers, then the British press, which is the most vital and rumbunctious in the world, will be limited," he says, ''That will limit its commercial viability.”

British press revenues have fallen by a quarter over the past five years largely because of Internet competition. If there is to be state regulation, the newspapers hope it will also to apply the new media.

About the author

Stephen Beard is the European bureau chief and provides daily coverage of Europe’s business and economic developments for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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