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‘Statutory regulation now inevitable,’ editors told

State regulation of newspapers will almost certainly happen as a result of the Leveson Inquiry, delegates at the Society of Editors conference in Belfast heard today.

But contributors to ‘The world after Leveson’ session were seemingly unanimous in their opinions that such a system could never work.

Panel member Chris Blackhurst, editor of The Independent, said that “some statutory regulation will be inevitable”, and that the newspaper industry “could be deluged in two weeks time” when Lord Justice Leveson is expected to report.

But he added that if self-regulation was to continue “we have to move on from existing and former editors sitting in judgement… We’ve lost that argument.”

Lord Guy Black, executive director of the Telegraph Group, stressed how self-regulation could still work through contracts and fines, and that “all national and regional publishers have now signed up.”

But he said: “We can’t go ahead until the Leveson Report has been published.  It would be irresponsible to go down the route of asking publishers to undertake significant expenditure unless we are clear we are going to end up with a workable system.”

Lord Inglewood, chairman of the House of Lords Communications Committee, said that “the sticky fingers” of both the government and politicians should “not have anything at all to do with any state regulation of newspapers.”

But he warned: “Self-regulation doesn’t stand a chance if anyone remotely significant doesn’t sign up to it.”

From the floor, veteran editor Bill Hagerty insisted: “The PCC was doing a reasonable job,” and that statutory regulation “would take the edge off journalism… resulting in a press in fear which terrifies me”.

But the reasons for state regulation were best phrased by former Mirror exec David Seymour, who said the press was “its own worst enemy” because it “didn’t see the train coming” and was “arrogant and insensitive” in the way it dealt with complaints.

Former Guardian editor Peter Preston said that the way politicians were lining up to make editorial judgements on the current BBC crisis showed how they would “constantly interfere” if state regulation was introduced for newspapers.

And Phil Harding, former Controller of Editorial Policy at the BBC, warned newspaper editors about overkill on the current Newsnight crisis: “Be careful what you wish for – it’s not going to do the press any good to get their own back on this one.”