* Inquiry expected to recommend tighter media restrictions
* Cameron says Britain must keep a free press
* Newspapers seek to keep form of self-regulation
LONDON, Oct 7 (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron said
Britain would avoid "heavy-handed state intervention" of its
national press after phone hacking victims urged him on Sunday
to remain open-minded about the recommendations of an inquiry
into media ethics.
Actor Hugh Grant, singer Charlotte Church and more than 50
other victims of press intrusion said in letter to Cameron they
feared he had already decided to reject statutory regulation of
the media before the inquiry's findings were published.
Cameron said he would not prejudge the inquiry and confirmed
he had told Grant he would implement its recommendations
providing they were "not bonkers".
"It's quite clear people have been abused, people's families
and lives have been torn up by press intrusion. The status quo
is not an option," he told BBC television.
Cameron ordered the wide-ranging investigation at the height
of a scandal last year into illegal phone hacking at Rupert
Murdoch's now-closed News of the World tabloid when it emerged
that reporters had hacked the phone of a murdered schoolgirl.
The inquiry, led by judge Brian Leveson, revealed the
inadequacy of British newspapers' current system of
self-regulation and is expected to recommend a tougher regime to
ensure victims of press intrusion can receive effective redress.
Leveson has yet to publish his findings after eight months
of hearings that ended in July.
Cameron will have to navigate a difficult political path in
responding to the recommendations to avoid being accused of
trampling on press freedoms or being soft on tabloid excesses,
especially given his close ties to two of those who have been
charged with offences relating to phone hacking.
His ex-spin doctor Andy Coulson was a former News of the
World editor and as was his friend Rebekah Brooks, who later
oversaw Murdoch's News International arm. Their trial has been
set for September next year.
"We don't want heavy-handed state intervention. We've got to
have a free press," Cameron said.
"We all want to put in place a sensible, regulatory system.
We're hoping that Lord Justice Leveson is going to crack this
problem for us, but we must let him do his work first."
Some newspapers have proposed a beefed up form of
contractual self-regulation as a way of avoiding statutory
control, an approach the hacking victims rejected as inadequate.
Grant, a director of the Hacked Off lobby group that
organised the letter to Cameron, said he wanted a new media
regulator who would be independent of both the newspaper
industry and government.
"It's actually the way solicitors are now regulated, it's
the way doctors are now regulated, and they're not complaining,"
he told BBC television.
"I do not see the slightest danger to freedom of expression,
freedom of speech from that."