The Leveson Enquiry

LET me declare an interest in this whole debate on press ethics before I go any further.

I was a journalist for some 17 years and the principles of free speech and a free press are deeply ingrained in me.

I appreciate there have been examples of appalling behaviour and victims are understandably angry.

But do revenge and anger justify legislation, which is itself an unwieldy and indiscriminate tool?

Remember, phone hacking is already illegal, as is libel.

Senior figures in the world of journalism are facing criminal charges and one national newspaper has closed.

Lord Leveson has clearly identified the need for a powerful regulator.

Free of political and press interference, it would watch and adjudicate, bringing swift and fair redress to those who are badly treated.

At the same time, it would guard the freedom of speech essential to our democracy.

However, where I part company from Lord Leveson is over his suggestion that regulations should be “underpinned” by new laws passed in Parliament.

As I said in my speech on Monday, I don’t trust the politicians, many of whom have axes to grind and I fear would not behave objectively.

And once new laws are passed, it’d be too easy to introduce more.

The very able Foreign Secretary William Hague argues that clamping down on our press would send out the wrong message to repressive regimes around the world.

Winston Churchill – a journalist himself – described the press as “the unsleeping guardian of every other right that free men prize.”

That guardian and those rights must be protected.

The majority of journalists, and certainly those I had the privilege to work with, are honest, decent people.

My hope is that editors will introduce and work with a new regulator which has real teeth, to ensure that, when the papers get it wrong, the appropriate remedy is pursued with fairness and vigour.