86 parliamentarians (including 42 Tories) write a letter in defence of press freedom
By Peter Hoskin
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Ahead of the release of the Leveson report tomorrow, various MPs and peers are rushing to speak out against state regulation of the press. Both David Davis and Dominic Raab have articles defending press freedom in the newspapers today, but more eye-catching still is the letter — organised by Conor Burns and David Blunkett — that has been sent to the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian by 86 parliamentarians from all three major parties. In it, they argue against “the imposition of any form of statutory control even if it is dressed up as underpinning.”
I have pasted the full letter below, as well as the list of all its signatories. There are 42 Tories in total, including Liam Fox, Graham Brady, Lord Coe and John Whittingdale.
With the publication of the Leveson Report on Thursday it is clear that the central issue will be whether the press should, for the first time, be subjected to statutory regulation or have the opportunity to put in place a new system of binding self-regulation.
As Parliamentarians, we believe in free speech and are opposed to the imposition of any form of statutory control even if it is dressed up as underpinning. It is redress that is vital not broader regulation.
The prospect of drafting legislation may have the dual benefit of exposing the dangers of the statutory regulation and at the same time focus the minds of those seeking to further strengthen the existing tough independent proposals.
No form of statutory regulation of the press would be possible without the imposition of state licensing – abolished in Britain in 1695. State licensing is inimical to any idea of press freedom and would radically alter the balance of our unwritten constitution.
There are also serious concerns that statutory regulation of the print media may shift the balance to the digital platforms which, as recent events have shown through the fiasco of Newsnight broadcast prompted by Twitter, would further undermine the position of properly moderated and edited print journalism.
The press abuse chronicled at Leveson was almost wholly about actions which were against the law. It demonstrated not a sole failure of regulation but rather of law enforcement.
However the status quo is not an option. We cannot countenance newspapers behaving as some have in the past. The solution is not new laws but a profound restructuring of the self-regulatory system.
Lords Hunt and Black have come forward with a detailed proposal for a much improved, genuinely independent regulator with the power to intervene proactively, to levy substantial fines, and to enforce membership for the first time through a system of civil contracts. They need to deliver on this promised reform.
We agree with the report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee which came out against any form of statutory regulation - not least because of the signal it would send to emerging democracies around the world.
Public debate will necessarily follow publication of the Leveson report and will be needed to provide confidence in a rigorous tough new system of self-regulation. Such a debate will lead to a speedy way of establishing a new self-regulatory regime that can restore confidence in the press.
Nick de Bois
Lord Howell of Guildford
The Lord True