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Newspaper industry awaits its moment of truth

The newspaper industry is today bracing itself for the prospect of radical changes in the way it is regulated as Lord Justice Leveson prepares to publish his long-awaited report.

The report, which will be published at 1.30pm this afternoon, will set out recommedations for the future regulation of the press in the wake of the phone-hacking affair.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who was shown the report yesterday, will give his initial response in a Commons statement at 3pm.

Yesterday Mr Cameron pledged to try to seek a cross-party consensus on the issue, but there are increasing signs that his own party is deeply split on the question of whether the new system should be underpinned by statute.

More than 80 MPs and peers yesterday signed a letter warning the Prime Minister that accepting such a recommendation would undermine freedom of speech.

But another group of 42 Tory MPs is urging tough new laws to keep newspapers in check.

The Prime Minister, Labour leader Ed Miliband and Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg have all indicated that they will support the judge’s recommendations as long as they are “proportionate”.

But, with his own MPs and Cabinet divided, there is speculation that Mr Cameron could offer Parliament a free vote on how the press is regulated.

At Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, Mr Cameron said he would seek cross-party talks on press regulation.

He said: “What matters most is that we end up with an independent regulatory system in which we can have confidence.”

Regional editors have continued to argue against statutory regulation and yesterday Kevin Ward, editor of the South Wales Argus, published an open letter to readers on the issue.

In it, he said statutory regulation of the press would see hundreds of local newspapers “punished for the sins of a tiny percentage of the press.”

He wrote: “Regional and local newspapers will be affected by any recommendations in the Leveson Report. This is not just about attacking the national tabloids or bashing the Murdoch empire. I would be deeply concerned if statutory controls of any nature are proposed.

“The Leveson recommendations, and the response of the Prime Minister and others to them, are crucial to local and regional newspapers. The debate cannot be confined to the tabloids or the nationals, even though the Leveson Inquiry concentrated almost exclusively on the national press.”

Elsewhere the National Union of Journalists has written to all its members insisting that it does not support statutory regulation of the press.

General secretary Michelle Stanistreet said that the NUJ wants a new regulatory body which is independent of both government and the industry.

The NUJ also reiterated its call for Lord Justice Leveson to back a conscience clause to safeguard journalists who object to being asked to act unethically in pursuit of a story.

HoldtheFrontPage will be carrying full coverage of the report and the industry reaction to it from 1.30pm onwards.