After an inquiry into press intrusion lasting more than a year, Lord Justice Leveson has delivered a damning verdict on decades of "outrageous" behaviour by newspapers.
The Appeal Court judge called for the establishment of a muscular new independent regulatory body, backed by legislation, with the power to require prominent apologies and impose fines of as much as £1 million. The recommendations exposed deep divisions within the coalition Government.
Prime Minister David Cameron voiced "serious concerns and misgivings" about legislative action, and said the press should be given "a limited period of time" to show it could get its house in order. But Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he believed Leveson's model could be "proportionate and workable" and insisted Parliament should push ahead "without delay".
Labour leader Ed Miliband urged MPs to "have faith" in Leveson and said he would move for a vote in the Commons by the end of January to approve Leveson's proposals in principle, with the aim of getting the new system in place by 2015.
As cross-party talks got under way on Thursday evening, the prospect of the consensus sought by Mr Cameron looked distant.
Labour claimed a concession after the PM said he would ask the Department of Culture to do some work on a draft Bill to implement Leveson, but Downing Street insisted Mr Cameron had not "given an inch" and expected the exercise to make clear how complicated and far-reaching any new law would be.
Lord Justice Leveson's 16-month inquiry was prompted by the disclosure that News of the World journalists hacked the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, and his 2,400-page report pulled no punches in condemning the behaviour of elements within the newspaper industry.
The press had repeatedly acted as if its own code of conduct "simply did not exist", and "wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people", he said. He left no doubt that the existing model of voluntary self-regulation under the Press Complaints Commission had failed, and rejected proposals for a beefed-up regulator put forward by industry figures.
To ensure public confidence in a new regulatory body, its board should include no serving editors, MPs or ministers and should have a majority of members with no industry links, he said. And crucially, he said that the body should be given legal underpinning, with statutory regulator Ofcom given the responsibility of certifying it complies with legislation.
Publications which refuse to take part in the voluntary scheme could be subjected to compulsory regulation by Ofcom, he suggested.