Downing Street insist that David Cameron is "open-minded" about this week's Leveson Inquiry report on press regulation amid growing evidence of opposition in the Cabinet to statutory oversight of newspapers.
No 10 sought to quell claims the Prime Minister will resist calls by Lord Justice Leveson for a statutory press watchdog when he publishes his findings on Thursday and instead grant newspapers a period of grace to prove they can provide self-regulation.
As interested parties from privacy campaigners to newspaper groups jockey for position ahead of this week's report, The Mail on Sunday reported that Mr Cameron will bow to pressure to allow the press to set its own house in order but retain the threat of state-backed regulation if that fails.
Copies of the Leveson report will be delivered to Downing Street and other senior ministers on Wednesday to allow Mr Cameron to provide a formal response when it is published a day later. A No 10 spokesman said: "The Prime Minister is open-minded about Lord Justice Leveson's report and will read it in full before he makes any decision about what to do."
The culmination of the public inquiry which Mr Cameron ordered last year following revelations that the News of the World had hacked into the voicemails of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler is a problem for the Prime Minister. He must plot a path between supporters of legislation who argue the hacking scandal proved self-regulation cannot work and others, including most newspaper editors and proprietors as well as senior politicians, who believe any state intervention threatens the independence of the press.
William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, insisted he was reserving his judgement but hinted he is among Cabinet sceptics, also thought to include Education Secretary Michael Gove and Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, instinctively opposed to statutory regulation.
Mr Hague told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show he wanted to read the report before commenting but added: "You have to err on the side of freedom."
Professor Brian Cathcart, director of Hacked Off, which is campaigning for a new legislation-backed newspaper watchdog and is backed by celebrities including Hugh Grant and Charlotte Church, said claims Mr Cameron had already made up his mind were "wishful thinking" by parts of the press.
The Leveson findings are expected to be the most far-reaching reckoning for the press in a generation with the industry holding its breath to see what regulatory structure, including a possible middle path based on existing statute but falling short of state-backed oversight, the High Court judge recommends.
Evgeny Lebedev, the chairman of The Independent and The Evening Standard, said he was strongly in favour of retaining self-regulation because of his experience of state control in his native Russia.
He told The Andrew Marr Show: "I feel instinctively against any form of government regulation...
"If we are to stay with some form of self-regulation it has to be extremely different from what it was before and make sure that whatever happened doesn't happen again."
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