A respected editor laid the blame for the country's phone-hacking scandal at the door of politicians and police on Tuesday, and said journalists did not need new rules but merely to observe existing ones.
Ian Hislop, editor of the satirical and investigative Private Eye magazine told a government-ordered inquiry into press standards that legislation was not needed because many of the tricks exposed by the hacking scandal were already illegal.
Hislop was appearing at the Leveson inquiry along with editors from the Times, Sunday Times and Guardian to urge the presiding judge to protect the country's cherished free press and show caution when considering new legislation.
Most of the heinous crimes that came up and have made such a splash in front of this inquiry have already been illegal, he said. Contempt of court is illegal, phone-tapping is illegal, policemen taking money is illegal. All of these things don't need a code, we already have laws for them.
The fact that these laws were not rigorously enforced is again due to the failure of the police, the interaction of the police and News International -- and let's be honest about this, the fact that our politicians have been very, very involved in ways that I think are not sensible with senior News International people.
The Leveson Inquiry was ordered by Prime Minister David Cameron last year at the height of the phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World that prompted Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. to close the best-selling Sunday tabloid.
The scandal, which dominated the news agenda for weeks last year, drew attention to the level of influence held by editors and executives at News International, the British newspaper arm of News Corp, and other newspapers in the country.
It embarrassed politicians for their close ties with newspaper executives and also the police, who repeatedly failed to investigate allegations of illegal phone hacking at the News of the World.
Hislop said the conduct of the politicians, who socialised with newspaper executives and employed former editors, gave the impression to many that the industry was untouchable.
If the prime minister appoints an ex-News of the World editor to be his communications director, you must think 'we're top of the pile, what could stop us?' he suggested, adding that the current and former prime ministers should appear before the inquiry to explain their conduct.
Tom Mockridge, the head of News International who took over when a host of Murdoch executives departed last year, also urged the inquiry to protect the independent nature of Britain's press regulation, which he said was respected around the world.
In this society, where there is not a constitutional guarantee of free speech, for the government to make laws which intervene in the press would contravene that basic principle and undermine the principle of a free press, he said.
He added that he had tightened the rules and governance at the company's newspapers since arriving last year.
Judge Leveson is using the lengthy investigation to consider new rules for the country's press which could range from statutory regulation to the more lenient and current system of self-regulation.
Most journalists and executives appearing before the inquiry have accepted that the current rules need to be changed to give more credibility and power to the body that oversees the industry.
All have been opposed to a system where the government regulates the press or has any control over its output.
I think if the state regulates the press, the press no longer regulates the state, Hislop said.
(Reporting by Kate Holton; Editing by Steve Addison)