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Archant chief welcomes Cameron stance on Leveson

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Archant chief executive, Adrian Jeakings, has welcomed the Prime Minister's rejection of proposals in the Leveson Report to introduce legislative underpinning for a new system of press regulation saying “He rightly warned that this would mean ‘crossing the Rubicon’ with consequent dangers for a free press.”

The PM also told the Commons yesterday that the regional and local press had been singled out for praise in the report which acknowledged that the criticisms of press culture and ethics during the inquiry were not directed at local papers.

Writing an article in his role as president of the Newspaper Society, Adrian said: “Britain’s regional and local newspapers have always been vehemently opposed to any form of statutory involvement in the regulation of the press, including the oversight by Ofcom proposed in the report. This would impose an unacceptable regulatory burden on the industry, potentially inhibiting freedom of speech and the freedom to publish.”

He pointed out: “Newspapers are ultimately accountable to their readers and must abide by the laws of the land. But, as the Prime Minister has today acknowledged, a free press cannot be free if it is dependent on and accountable to a regulatory body recognised by the state.”

Adrian said: “The Prime Minister also acknowledged that Britain’s regional and local media had little to do with the phone hacking scandal which prompted the Leveson Inquiry. He highlighted the special point made in the Leveson Report that regional newspapers’ ‘contribution to local life is truly without parallel’ and that ‘although accuracy and similar complaints are made against local newspapers, the criticisms of the culture, practices and ethics of the press that have been raised in this Inquiry do not affect them: on the contrary, they have been much praised.’

“It is important for me to point out that, as businesses, local newspapers are resilient, innovative and committed to the highest standards of local journalism and we will continue to fulfil our unique vital role for the local communities we serve for many years to come. Despite steep declines in our main source of revenue – advertising – which is a barometer of UK economic performance, we are reaching bigger audiences than ever before across our multimedia platforms. Our titles are also the most trusted of all media.

“The principle at stake during the Leveson debate goes to the very heart of our democracy. British people instinctively know this, which is why a recent survey showed that 75 per cent of them think there is a risk that governments would use a statutory regulator to stop newspapers from criticising them.

“But the local press does also recognise that press freedom carries responsibilities and that the public must have confidence in any new press regulator, alongside effective enforcement of existing laws such as libel and contempt of court.”

Adrian’s comments came after Prime Minister David Cameron told the House of Commons he had “serious concerns and misgivings” on the report’s recommendation of legislation to provide a backstop to a new self- regulatory body.

The Prime Minister said: “The issue of principle is that for the first time we would have crossed the Rubicon of writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land.

“We should I believe be wary of any legislation that has the potential to infringe free speech and a free press. In this House – which has been a bulwark of democracy for centuries – we should think very, very carefully before crossing this line.”

On the local press, the Prime Minister highlighted that the report “says their contribution to local life is truly without parallel and how little they have been involved in the damaging culture and practices referred to in the rest of the report.”

Speaking in the House of Lords yesterday, Lord Black of Brentwood, chairman of the Press Standards Board of Finance, said: “The Prime Minster has laid down a challenge to the newspaper industry to proceed quickly. Could I reassure him that the industry will rise energetically to this challenge?

“There is much in the Leveson principles we agree on and they can be fully deployed in the industry’s own proposals. As the Report says on p. 1768: 'There is no reason why [the industry] model should not be capable of adaptation to meet the requirements set down here … if the other … changes around independence and effectiveness were made.' I concur.

“Could I finally echo the great caution he expressed about the role of the statutory regulator Ofcom in the new system? Such involvement may sound benign but it is state control by any other name.”

PCC chairman Lord Hunt, speaking last night to the University of East Anglia on ‘Regulating the Media’, said he was committed to moving forward quickly to form a new regulator with effective sanctions and teeth. He hoped the industry would accept his recommendations set out in a six-point plan.

He said: “I suggest that we all now digest this report and seek our common ground and then unite around it. Above all it is absolutely key that the result is a new regulator with effective sanctions and teeth, and independent from the Industry and from the Government.”

© Archant Ltd 2013