LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron demanded newspaper editors come up with an effective system of self-regulation urgently on Tuesday following a damning inquiry into the reporting practices of Britain's scandal-hungry press.
Last week a judge who oversaw the year-long inquiry triggered by a phone-hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch's British media empire called for a new legislation-backed watchdog to police the sometimes "outrageous" behavior of the press.
That infuriated newspaper bosses who have lobbied frantically against the recommendation, saying any involvement of the law in press regulation would amount to state control and an attack on Britain's centuries-old traditions of free speech.
Cameron is himself against statutory regulation, but, keen to be seen as taking a tough stance on the excesses of Britain's notoriously aggressive newspapers, he said industry bosses had to act fast to get their house in order.
"They've got to do it in a way that absolutely meets the requirements of Lord Justice Leveson's report," Cameron said in televised remarks after a meeting with the editors.
"That means million pound fines, proper investigation of complaints, prominent apologies, and a tough independent regulatory system. And they know, because I told them, the clock is ticking for this to be sorted out."
In his report last week, Lord Justice Brian Leveson said statutory backing for the news regulator was needed to end a journalistic culture that had at times "wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people".
Cameron's opposition to the idea has earned him the condemnation of families of murder victims who have accused the British leader of betrayal, but won praise from right-leaning newspapers such as The Daily Telegraph and The Daily Mail.
The government has nevertheless threatened the press with new laws to curb its behavior if the industry failed to put together a self-regulatory approach.
"We will not accept a puppet show with the same people pulling the same strings," Culture Secretary Maria Miller told parliament a day earlier.
She said the government would not allow editors to propose a regulation model that was effectively the same as the existing, widely discredited Press Complaints Commission which was made up of representatives of the major publishers.
The behavior of Britain's tabloid press has come under intense scrutiny in recent years as it used increasingly intrusive tactics to break stories.
Cameron had promised victims of press intrusion that he would support Leveson's proposals provided they were not too extreme. They now accuse him of going back on his word and being in the pocket of media barons.
"The challenge now is for the newspaper industry to get on with it and put in place an independent regulator that is consistent with the Leveson principles and commands public confidence," Cameron's spokesman said separately.
"The secretary of state (for culture and media) made very clear that no change is not an option and we would have to go back and look at other options laid out by Leveson."
(Additional reporting by Mo Abbas and Stephen Addison Writing by Maria Golovnina)