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Regional editor fears ‘oppressive’ press laws

A regional daily editor has set out his opposition to statutory regulation of the press, saying it will “inevitably become a heavy hand of oppression”.

Southern Daily Echo editor-in-chief Ian Murray, left, who is also vice-president of Society of Editors, has written an article explaining why he believes free speech will be under threat if statutory regulation is brought in.

He set out his views just days before Lord Justice Leveson is due to publish his report into the into the culture, practices and ethics of the press following his Inquiry, which was launched last year in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.

The report will be released on Thursday and many in the industry fear that he will recommend a system of statutory regulation, although reports in some Sunday newspapers yesterday suggested the government will reject the idea.

Ian said the country was approaching a “critical point in the history of freedom” and feared a small amount of statutory regulation would later see laws toughened so that free speech and democracy would be under threat.

He wrote “Opposing the arguments for statutory regulation are those of us in the media who believe that there can be no such thing as a light-control on freedom.

“A ‘dab’ of statutory regulation will inevitably become a heavy hand of oppression. You only have to look at how eagerly local authorities have used laws created to meet the th eat from terrorism to snoop on their citizens, to realise how gleefully they will seize on the opportunity to use laws to curb press freedom to keep their excesses hidden.

“At the heart of the debate lies the question of whether self-regulation has worked for the press in this country. Plainly, in the light of the investigations into wrong-doing – still to be proved in law – and some of the obvious excesses, there have been failings in the current system.

“Yet the regulations that control the BBC and ITV have hardly proved effective in the last few weeks in ensuring no excesses can take place.

“Ultimately it is not the regulatory system that counts, it is how it is applied. A new, tougher self-regulatory system has been put forward by the newspaper industry.

“It includes a system of real fines and contracts to ensure newspaper sign up. I would say this should be given the opportunity to work.”

Ian added: “The press has lost a lot of trust over the years. We must wait and see whether Lord Justice Leveson decides we deserve another chance to regulate ourselves, or whether 300-years of press freedom, and with them the safeguards against tyranny, are consigned to history.”

His full blog can be read here.