The British press should be regulated by an independent group supported by law and with the power to fine, a judge recommended Thursday in a long-awaited report sparked by a phone-hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch's News of the World tabloid.
Judge Brian Leveson said he was not recommending that Parliament set up a press regulator, but that the industry should create its own, which would be backed by legislation to make sure it meets certain standards of independence and effectiveness.
Prime Minister David Cameron, who asked the judge to prepare the report, told Parliament after its release that he agrees with Leveson's recommendations for a new, strong, independent press regulator.
He said the onus is now on the press to implement the report's recommendations, "and implement them radically."
But Cameron said he is not convinced that legislation is needed to underpin the new body -- and he has serious concerns about taking that approach.
At the same time, the prime minister said that the "status quo is not an option" and that the victims of press abuses have "suffered in a way that we can barely begin to imagine."
News International, a subsidiary of the Murdoch-owned News Corp., backed Cameron's call for regulation without legislation.
"We accept that a new system should be independent, have a standards code, a means of resolving disputes, the power to demand prominent apologies and the ability to levy heavy fines," the company said in a statement.
Signaling a difference of views within the coalition government, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who leads the Liberal Democrats, said he believes new legislation is needed to ensure the regulator's long-term independence.
Ed Miliband, leader of the opposition Labour Party, also said he favors full implementation of Leveson's recommendations, including the new legislation.
Cross-party talks are expected later Thursday to discuss a way forward.
In his report, Leveson said that he had no desire to jeopardize the freedom of the press, which he acknowledged plays a "vital" role in safeguarding the public interest, but that changes are needed to tackle abuses.
The British press has ignored its own code of conduct on "far too many occasions over the last decade," causing "real hardship" and sometimes wreaking "havoc with the lives of innocent people," Leveson said.
"This is not just the famous but ordinary members of the public, caught up in events (many of them, truly tragic) far larger than they could cope with but made much, much worse by press behavior that, at times, can only be described as outrageous," he said.
At the same time, no one proposed that the government or Parliament should be involved in regulating the press, Leveson said.
The judge recommends that the new body have new powers to impose tough sanctions against newspapers that break the rules, including the imposition of fines of up to 1% of turnover, to a maximum of 1 million pounds ($1.6 million).
The judge said the relationship between the press and politicians is mostly "robust," but sometimes the links can be "too close."
He highlighted as a concern "relationships between policy makers and those in the media who stand to gain or lose from the policy being considered."
This risks undermining public confidence in the press and politicians, he said.
Cameron said he accepted that more transparency was needed over such links.
But the prime minister pointed out that Leveson had "emphatically" rejected allegations that the Conservative Party had struck some kind of deal with News International.
This related to claims that its newspapers might have offered favorable coverage to Cameron in the expectation of "policy favors."
Cameron's government faced uncomfortable questions earlier this year over its handling of a bid by Murdoch's News Corp. to take over British satellite broadcaster BSkyB. The bid was eventually dropped.
The prime minister also backed Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations to break an "excessively cozy relationship" between the police and the press.
Leveson said there was a perception that some senior police officers within London's Metropolitan Police were too close to News International.