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Editors in Leveson challenge to party leaders

The editors of the newspapers serving the constituencies of Britain’s three party leaders have challenged each of them over press regulation.

With Lord Justice Leveson’s report on press standards due out next week, editors have urged Premier David Cameron, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg and Labour’s Ed Miliband to rule out statutory regulation of newspapers.

Simon O’Neill, editor of the Oxford Mail which cover the Prime Minister’s Witney constituency, said: “A free press is essential to a truly democratic society. Weaken the former and you weaken the latter. It really is as simple as that.

“Am I paranoid? You bet I am. There are people in power out there – politicians and public servants included – who utter fine words about democracy and accountability and then do all they can to cover up their corruption and hypocrisy. They have scores to settle.”

Jeremy Clifford, editor of Sheffield daily The Star which covers Mr Clegg’s Sheffield Hallam constituency, added: “We have to review the issue of press regulation outside of the hysteria and disgraceful revelations – and do so in a context of rational thought.

“The likes of Mr Clegg draw a distinction between some of the national newspapers and the local media. But statutory legislation will not do so. Nor will it be able to constrain or regulate publishers outside of newspapers – by which I mean the internet and social media.”

And Graeme Huston, editor in chief of the Doncaster Free Press which covers Mr Miliband’s Doncaster North seat recalled the paper’s investigation into a child care scandal which led to the council being named and shamed in Parliament and taken over by government.

“The question is would new statutory regulations on the press, brought about in response to appalling behaviour elsewhere in the industry, make that kind of story more or less likely to come to light?  Political control could discourage or even snuff out investigative journalism which is wholly in the public interest,” he said.

Culture secretary and Basingstoke MP Maria Miller was also challenged over the issue by Basingstoke Gazette editor Mark Jones who said:  “To impose statutory regulation is akin to using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.”

The full text of the editors’ comments can be seen on the Newspaper Society website.