The editor of The News today warned against state control of newspapers.
Mark Waldron spoke out as the long-awaited Leveson report was published.
Lord Justice Leveson called for legislation to underpin a ‘genuinely independent and effective system of self-regulation’ for the press.
Mr Waldron said: ‘The inquiry by Lord Justice Leveson in to the culture and ethics of the press was launched amid a storm of indignation.
‘Details of media intrusion, phone hacking, payment of public officials and other revelations rightly shocked the public and brought shame on titles whose practices were laid bare.
‘As all newspapers risked being tarred with the same brush Lord Leveson was quick to point out the valuable service to their communities provided by local newspapers like The News. ‘I make it abundantly clear I am a great believer, and always have been, in what local newspapers do,’ he said.
‘And only last week, Prime Minister David Cameron told the House of Commons: ‘The problems there have been in our newspaper industry have not concerned regional and local titles, which perform an incredibly important function in our democratic system.’
‘Today’s Leveson Report recommends some statutory controls of the media – and these controls will not differentiate between tackling the excesses of the national press exposed during his inquiry and the valuable work done by the regional press.
‘Newspapers have been free of special state and statutory controls for some 300 years. The Press has also maintained its independence of state subsidies and sought no special state privileges.
‘Mandatory newspaper membership of any statutory scheme, backed by sanctions for those who refuse to join, is effectively state control and interference in a free press.
‘As we investigate, report, campaign, inform and entertain our readers, all of us at The News are exercising anyone’s right to freedom of expression.
‘In acting as public watchdog over councils, courts and other state operations, our journalists are simply exercising the public’s rights of access, witness and report.
At our local level we take our responsibilities extremely seriously. We have teeth which we are not afraid to use – whether exposing wrongdoing or standing up for our readers.
‘But we know the boundaries we work within and do not cross the line.
‘I am signed up to the Editors’ Code of Practice and fully endorse the work of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC). Concerns have been raised about the effectiveness of the PCC and I agree that changes are necessary. But a tougher new system of self-regulation for the press has been proposed which would cover off any current shortcomings. It does not need state control.
‘Away from the PCC we are also subject to a variety of civil and criminal laws which restrict investigation, reporting and publication and provide legal remedies to victims of wrongdoing or punish unlawful behaviour and unlawful publication.
‘Any statutory regulation of the press would be a fundamental constitutional change, ending 300 years of hard won freedom of the press from specific state control.’