A sneak preview of the official report on British press misdeeds, including Rupert Murdoch's phone-hacking scheme, is in the prime minister's hands. He's staying mum.
LONDON — Prime Minister David Cameron failed to offer any clues Wednesday on whether he will support new more stringent regulation of Britain's press following the conclusion of a yearlong inquiry into the country's unruly tabloids.
Cameron got a sneak preview of Lord Justice Peter Leveson's report, which is set for public release Thursday. But in carefully crafted remarks that shielded how he would respond to the judge's recommendations, Cameron told lawmakers he wanted all of the major parties agree on the next step.
"I would agree that a free press is absolutely vital to democracy. We should recognize all the press has done and should continue doing to uncover wrong doing, to stand up to the powerful," Cameron said. "Whatever the changes we make, we want a robust and free press in our country."
The inquiry was launched after revelations of widespread illegal behavior at the News of the World, the top-selling Sunday publication that was eventually closed down by its owner, Rupert Murdoch's News International.
The scandal rocked Britain's establishment with evidence of media misdeeds, police corruption and too-cozy links between the press and politicians.
And News International, which is part of New York listed News Corp., has been hit with dozens of lawsuits over the interception of telephone voicemails. Reporters and media executives have been arrested — and the entire media supervision system has been called into question.
The essential issue swirling around the report is whether the government will pass new laws to curb the press, possibly involving the creation of a new regulatory body, or whether some modifications can be made to the current system.
Cameron declined to respond to members of his own Conservative Party, who are pressuring the government to pass new laws. Instead, he said he would meet with opposition leaders about the report's contents in a quest for cross-party support.
"What matters most I believe is that we end up with an independent regulatory system that can deliver, and in which the public have confidence," he said.
Cameron is already being besieged with advice about how to respond to the still-secret recommendations. It is not clear yet if Leveson will recommend that the government legislate to regulate newspapers, or give newspapers another chance at monitoring themselves, so-called self-regulation.
More than 80 politicians from all three main parties have signed a letter warning Cameron against legislating, while 42 members of his Conservative Party, the dominant partner in the coalition government, have urged tough new laws.
Harriet Harman, the deputy leader of the Labour opposition, said she agreed with Cameron's comments, telling the BBC the present system had failed.
"Yes, it has to be independent of government and politics and Parliament. We don't want to have anything to do with regulating the press," she said. "But it's also got to be independent of newspapers. You can't have the editors marking their own homework in the way they have been doing in the past."