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Prince Harry Wages War Against Tabloids Forced to Change, if Not Retreat

Phone hacking, intercepting voice-mail messages without permission, is illegal in Britain. But in the first decade of this century, there were widespread abuses by the tabloid media, including obtaining private information such as phone bills or medical records by deception, known as “blagging.”

The royals were prime targets, and in 2006-7, the royal editor of The News of the World, Clive Goodman, and a private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, were convicted of intercepting royal aides’ voice-mail messages.

Prof. Timothy Luckhurst, principal of South College at Durham University and the founding head of the center for journalism at the University of Kent, said the pivotal change in media came after the startling revelation that The News of the World, a Rupert Murdoch newspaper, had hacked the phone of a missing child, Milly Dowler, who was later found slain.

The case spurred an inquiry that was named for the judge who led it, Brian Leveson, and in 2011 resulted in News Corporation’s closing of the 168-year-old newspaper.

“The Leveson inquiry involved really intense scrutiny of and profound criticism of elements of the popular press in the U.K., and it led to recommendations that, had they been accepted, would have led to the first state involvement in the regulation of the press in the U.K. since the abolition of press licensing in the 17th century,” Professor Luckhurst said.

Britain’s policymakers had long struggled with how to curb the tabloids’ excesses.

But the idea that Parliament would regulate the very people whose job it was to hold lawmakers to account proved a big enough threat that it acted as a form of constraint on journalists. The regulation idea was ultimately rejected amid wariness about trampling on press freedom, Professor Luckhurst said, “but the press understood, at that time, that self-regulation was going to have to deliver substantial improvements in conduct if it was going to endure.”

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Mohammad SHiblu

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