British Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday supported the idea of a new independent regulator that could impose fines on the UK press for misconduct, but called plans to underpin this regulator with legislation a step too far. Before Parliament, he said he had serious concerns and misgivings about this particular proposal. He said:

For the first time we would have crossed the Rubicon of writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land. We should, I believe, be wary of any legislation that has the potential to infringe free speech and a free press. In this house, which has been a bulwark of democracy for centuries, we should think very very carefully before crossing this line.

Lord Justice of Appeal Brian Leveson, head of the so-called Leveson Inquiry, (a judicial probe following last year’s phone-hacking scandal) said that a press watchdog backed by legislation was the only way to end “a culture of reckless and outrageous journalism.”

Cameron took a big gamble yesterday by not backing a key recommendation by a panel he ordered set up. He said that enacting a press law would be complicated, and could hurt free speech, and a free press, adding:

The danger is that this would create a vehicle for politicians, whether today or sometime in the future, to impose regulation and obligations on the press, something that Lord Justice Leveson himself wishes to avoid.

Members of Parliament booed his comments. And Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg contradicted Cameron’s view by calling Leveson’s model “proportionate and workable”, and saying Parliament should move swiftly to enact the recommendations. Victims of the phone-hacking scandal that led to the inquiry criticized Cameron, including the parents of a murdered schoolgirl whose phone messages were listened to and deleted, hampering the investigation and giving the girl’s parents false hope.

📬 Sign up for the Daily Brief

Our free, fast, and fun briefing on the global economy, delivered every weekday morning.