03/08/2012 07:20 EST | Updated 05/08/2012 05:12 EDT

Britain's press regulator, slammed by victims of tabloid phone hacking, to be shut down

LONDON - Britain's press regulator, much criticized amid a scandal over tabloid phone hacking, confirmed Thursday that it is to be abolished and replaced with a new body.

The Press Complaints Commission said it had appointed a "director of transition" to conduct the shutdown as quickly as possible and overseee the creation of a new body, "including transferring staff, assets and liabilities."

The industry-funded body has been called weak and ineffective by victims of tabloid intrusion, who have increasingly turned to the courts instead for redress.

It can demand a newspaper publish an apology, but has no power to issue fines.

"Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling was one of several celebrities to criticize the regulator in testimony to Britain's judge-led media ethics inquiry, calling it "toothless ... a wrist-slapping exercise at best."

The commission agreed in principle to abolish itself at a meeting last month. PCC head David Hunt said then that the new body would give Britain "for the first time a press regulator with teeth." He said the new body would have "an independent self-regulatory structure that everyone will approve of."

However, details of the new regulator's powers and mandate have not been made public.

The ethics inquiry was set up after the revelation that Rupert Murdoch's News of the World had regularly listened to the mobile phone voicemails of celebrities, politicians and crime victims in its quest for stories.

Murdoch shut down the 168-year-old paper in July amid public outrage, and the scandal has spawned several major police investigations into the conduct of his media empire.

The ethics inquiry — which has heard evidence from celebrities, crime victims, newspaper executives and reporters — is expected to recommend major changes to press regulation when it issues findings later this year.

Britain's broadcasters are regulated by a separate communications industry watchdog.


Jill Lawless can be reached at: