Veteran newspaper entrepreneur Sir Ray Tindle will today describe the prospect of statutory regulation of the press as “the worst threat I have known in my 65 years of active service in newspapers.”
With Lord Justice Leveson due to deliver his report into press standards and phone hacking within the next month, fears are growing that ministers may bring in a new press regulator underpinned by statute.
The Newspaper Society has been leading an increasingly vocal rearguard action against the idea and today Sir Ray will add his voice to the growing campaign.
At a lunch to mark the 175th anniversary of the Monmouthshire Beacon, he will say that a licensing regime for newspapers would have prevented some of his recent hyperlocal title launches.
He will say: “If the Leveson Enquiry into phone hacking by a few, very few newspapers results in statutory controls for the industry as a whole, 99pc of newspapers will be unjustly punished for the sins of less than one per cent of the press.
“No one here will defend phone hacking but to take away the freedom to publish would undermine everything we stand for, and to bring statutory control the whole of the press for sins for which laws already exist is totally unacceptable in a free country.
“In addition, how could we legislate to control the printed press without similarly controlling the internet and thousands of magazines and leaflets etc?
“Could UK law really say we can stop you saying something on newsprint but we can’t stop you saying it on the internet?”
Sir Ray will tell his guests: “The phone hacking scandal was appalling but shackling the press would benefit only the rich and powerful.
“Statutory regulation, or an independent regulator underpinned by legislation, would be the beginning of the end of a free press which, as Winston Churchill said, ‘is the unsleeping guardian of every other right than free men prize.’”
“We need to think hard about this. A Daily Telegraph leader last week was headed ‘The threat to our free press is grave and foolish.’ It is in fact the worst threat I have known in my 65 years of active service in newspapers.
“The whole of the press is becoming gravely concerned because we think the government may accept it.”
Sir Ray’s comments come as London Mayor Boris Johnson lent his own weight to the Free Speech Network campaign, whose supporters include the NS and the Society of Editors.
In a video message, he praised the UK’s “free, dynamic, irreverent, independent media” as “one of the glories of this country.”
The Free Speech Network is hosting a panel discussion this evening, on the constitutional threat posed to free speech by statutory regulation of the press, led by John Humphrys, with panellists including MP John Whittingdale and Kent journalism lecturer Tim Luckhurst.