British judge calls for independent press regulator amid phone hacking scandal

A top British judge recommended that the nation needs an independent regulator to help rid the media of unethical behavior.

Lord Justice Brian Leveson ended a yearlong inquiry with Thursday's recommendation that a new regulatory body be established in law to prevent more people from being hurt by "press behavior that, at times, can only be described as outrageous."

Leveson's report was prompted by revelations of phone hacking by tabloids. Although his proposal may find support from hacking victims and longtime critics of the press, others have expressed fear that such a measure could infringe on freedom of the press.

Prime Minister David Cameron set up the inquiry after revelations of illegal eavesdropping by the now-defunct News of the World tabloid sparked a criminal investigation and a wave of public revulsion.

Leveson criticized the cozy relationship between politicians, police and the press, but insisted in his 2,000-page report that politicians and the government should play no role in regulating the press.

Parliament would have to approve any legal changes the report recommends, and Cameron is under intense pressure from both sides. He is also tainted by his own ties to prominent figures in the scandal, which erupted in 2011 when it was revealed that the News of the World had listened in on phone voicemails of slain schoolgirl Milly Dowler while police were searching for the girl.

News Corp. closed down the 168-year-old newspaper in July 2011. The company's newspaper arm, News International, has paid millions in damages to dozens of hacking victims and faces lawsuits from dozens more.

Former News Corp. editors and journalists subsequently charged with phone hacking, police bribery or other wrongdoing include Cameron's former spokesman, Andy Coulson, and ex-News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks, a friend of the prime minister.

Coulson and Brooks were appearing in court Thursday on charges of paying public officials for information.

Cameron, who received a copy of Leveson's report a day early, is due to make a statement about it in the House of Commons later Thursday.

He and other senior politicians insist they will not curb Britain's long tradition of free speech.

"Everybody wants two things: firstly, a strong, independent, raucous press who can hold people in positions of power to account, and secondly to protect ordinary people -- the vulnerable, the innocent -- when the press overstep the mark," Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said Thursday.

"That's the balance that we are trying to strike and I am sure we will."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.