David Cameron has praised regional newspapers for their “calm and reasonableness” by comparison with their national counterparts.
Peter asked Mr Cameron whether the phone-hacking scandal would be used as an opportunity to impose new restrictions on the media, and whether he understood the difference between the national and regional press.
Mr Cameron replied that he wanted a “vibrant free media and we particularly want that in our regional papers.”
Lord Justice Leveson is currently carrying out a wide-ranging inquiry into media ethics which is expected to recommend a new regulatory framework for the industry.
Mr Cameron has already called for the replacement of the Press Complaints Commission, although the watchdog still enjoys widespread support from the regional press industry.
During the Q&A Peter told him: “Phone hacking is a national scandal, but it’s worrying how many of our journalists came back into the office after this whole thing blew up and said: “People are actually asking us about this, whether it’s a practice that we are involved in”.
“What concerns us is that the government might use this as an opportunity to impose new restrictions on the media. Do you understand the difference, can I ask, between the national media and the regional?
Mr Cameron replied: “I do completely – and not only do I understand the difference between the national papers that were indulging in this practice and regional papers, but also I think your readers know very well that regional newspapers have a different agenda, a different way of doing business and a different approach.
“There’s a sort of calm and reasonableness to regional papers that you don’t always get from national papers.
“That’s not to say you don’t fight very strong campaigns, you do, but there’s not the same level of hysteria, if I may put it that way.
“And let me reassure you, I said very clearly at the liaison committee in Parliament this week, the scandal of what has happened must not be used as a sort of bone to relish for MPs to over-regulate the media and get their own back for the expenses scandal. That would be completely wrong.
“We want a vibrant free media and we particularly want that in our regional papers.
“It’s up to Lord Justice Leveson, who will chair the inquiry, as to what he comes up with, but the sort of independent regulation that will be looked at, I don’t think that newspapers that act responsibly have got anything to fear.”
Mr Cameron’s visit to the Archant Norfolk-owned title took place under a cloak of security which meant that no-one could be told of the visit beforehand.
Reporter Kim Briscoe covered the visit and was also in the interview alongside Peter.
Said Kim: “The vast majority of the newsroom had no idea that one of the most powerful men in the country was about to walk past their desks, and those who did only found out ten minutes beforehand.
“It was priceless seeing the jaws drop of even some of the most cynical hacks as he strode into the office followed by a large entourage,” she added.