A regional daily editor says he fears that the Leveson Inquiry into Press Standards has become a “juggernaut” which cannot be stopped.
Mike Gilson, editor of the Belfast Telegraph, said he believed the revelations about phone hacking which led to the inquiry showed existing institutions were working – but he feared the impact of the allegations had become “far too big”.
He was speaking during a panel discussion on journalism and ethics at Belfast Media Festival alongside Society of Editors boss Bob Satchwell, media lawyer Paul Tweed and media commentator Roy Greenslade.
Mike was one of eight regional editors from across the UK who gave evidence in January at the inquiry, with Lord Justice Leveson expected to deliver his report on the future regulation of the industry within the next month.
At the Belfast debate, Mike, who previously sat on the Press Complaints Commission’s code committee, appeared to support proposals for a beefed-up press watchdog, where the public rather than editors would be given a majority.
Said Mike: “I was always slightly concerned at that time that the code committee which made the law for the PCC – which then gave the law to the lay members to decide on the adjudications – was made up entirely of editors.
“The more that process is opened for lay people to sit on the decision-making body – so it wasn’t just editors – I think the better.
“We are in a crazy time with the press, where this very specific and damaging thing has become far too big and Leveson is a juggernaut, which I’m afraid that we may not be able to stop.”
Mike said journalists were operating in a “shut-down society” ruled by press officers and had to battle harder than ever to do their jobs.
And he refuted the assertion by Paul Tweed that “press control the platform for free speech”, saying that was “absolute nonsense”.
Referring to the revelations about phone hacking at the former News of the World, Mike added: “The press discovered this problem – the Guardian. People have been brought to justice and people will go to jail. Newspapers have closed; people have lost their jobs.”
A video of the debate can be viewed by clicking here.
Meanwhile editors at the KM Group have added their voices to the growing opposition to the prospect of statutory regulation of the press.
Each of the family-owned Kent firm’s newspapers ran extensive articles this week highlighting the value of a free press ahead of the publication of the Leveson report.
The articles highlighted the many community campaigns KM Group titles have fought on behalf of readers and drew readers’ attention to scandals uncovered by award-winning political reporter Paul Francis, including a huge pay-out to the former boss of Kent County Council when she left her post after only 18 months.
KM Group editorial director Ian Carter, who is also member of the PCC, said: “The prospect of official regulation of the press is something we should fight tooth and nail to prevent.
“I genuinely think our newspapers are a force for good in the communities they serve, and to punish everyone for the offences of a tiny minority would be a tragedy.”
The majority of MPs contacted by KM Group editors said they opposed official regulation of the press.