Newspapers should have new legal rights to obtain information - and even to use illegal methods such as phone hacking, according to MP Tom Watson.
The West Bromwich MP, who led calls for a crackdown on illegal and unethical behaviour in parts of the newspaper industry, called for protection for “powerful, strong investigative journalism”.
He was speaking to The Birmingham Post as Lord Justice Leveson prepared to publish the findings of his inquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the press, which was set up by David Cameron partly in response to the MP’s campaign.
Mr Watson called for changes to the law to enhance the Freedom of Information Act, which allows journalists and other people to demand information from public bodies.
And he said the law should be clarified to make it clear that journalists could use “acting in the public interest” as a defence if they obtained information which the public had a right to know by using methods which would otherwise be illegal.
The MP said: “I realise I might have been slightly typecast in this debate but I do think there should be a public interest defence, possibly enshrined in law.
"I have always maintained there are circumstances where an editor, having taken account of the circumstances, might think there is a public interest in using information from a hacked phone.
“I believe in powerful, strong investigative journalism.
“My experience of being part of the team that investigated the phone hacking scandal changed my view of Britain.
"I now believe we live in one of the most closed liberal democracies in the Western word and we need to give something back to journalists in the form of more powerful Freedom of Information, or rights to access to data or information, that journalists or concerned citizens currently do not have.”
Mr Watson took on newspaper publisher Rupert Murdoch at a high-profile hearing of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport committee, and compared his son James Murdoch, the former chairman of newspaper publisher News International, to a mafia boss.