Continued from page 1

Celebrity witnesses expressed outrage that fame made every aspect of their private lives fair game for the press. Rowling said the tabloids’ attitude was: “You’re famous, you’re asking for it.” The press camped on her doorstep, phoned her husband pretending to be tax collectors, even slipped a note into her 5-year-old daughter’s schoolbag.

“I felt such a sense of invasion,” Rowling said. “(It was) like being under siege and like being a hostage.”

Others described a similar sense of violation.

But representatives of the tabloid press saw it differently _ as a codependent relationship involving attention-starved celebrities and story-seeking journalists.

The Daily Mail’s Dacre said that “a lot of celebrities, celebrity chefs, sportspeople make a lot of money by revealing their lives to the public. I believe newspapers should be given some latitude to look into their lives when they err.”

Former News of the World reporter Paul McMullan put it more bluntly: “The only people I think need privacy are people who do bad things,” he said. “Privacy is evil.”

THE SCANDAL HAS TAMED THE TABLOID PRESS, AT LEAST TEMPORARILY

The inquiry was triggered by widespread revulsion in July when the public learned about the hacking of the phone of Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old girl who was abducted and murdered in 2002.

Since then, Britain’s rambunctious tabloids have been noticeably more muted, running few of the exposes of celebrity sex-and-drug scandal that were long their trademark. It seems editors are running scared.

Celebrity publicist Max Clifford _ who pocketed nearly 1 million pounds ($1.58 million) of Murdoch’s money when his own hacking case was settled _ told the inquiry that in the last few months “there are several major stories that would have dominated the headlines … that haven’t come out.”

THE SYSTEM IS BROKEN, BUT THERE’S LITTLE AGREEMENT ABOUT HOW TO FIX IT

Almost every witness agreed that the current system of newspaper self-regulation through the Press Complaints Commission does not work.

The commission can impose penalties and order apologies in response to complaints about stories _ but it has no legal powers, membership is voluntary and it is composed mainly of newspaper editors.

Sherborne, the hacking victims’ lawyer, said that the current setup was “tantamount to handing the police station over to the mafia,” and victims have called for stronger _ if often undefined _ measures to curb wayward journalists.

But journalists and newspaper editors fear such pressure could lead to some form of state regulation of the media. They would prefer to see a new independent regulator with stronger powers.

Story Continues →