Andrew Pugh, senior reporter, Press Gazette

The view from Fleet Street…

Andrew Pugh
Andrew Pugh

“According to Independent editor Chris Blackhurst, if the letter sent to national newspapers warning them of potential criticisms is anything to go by then Leveson is “loading a gun” and preparing to launch a “damning indictment” of the national press

 “Whether the Government will actually support those proposals is, fortunately, another question altogether. Those supporting the case for self-regulation note that timing will be crucial. Any recommendations accepted by the Government are likely go before Parliament toward the end of 2014 or else in early 2015 – an election year in which the Tories will be looking to clinch a majority.

 “Is this Government brave enough to alienate the entire national press at a time when it needs it needs their the most? It seems highly unlikely.

 “To a large extent the wrongdoings exposed in such minutiae at the inquiry were already a thing of the past; it would be a brave editor to approve phone-hacking in the current climate, and a foolish reporter to do it off his own back.

“But is that something we should be celebrating? The truth is that journalists sometimes have to do some pretty dodgy things to land a story. Remember MPs expenses, one of the biggest stories of the last decade? Would any newspaper editor be willing to pay the rumoured £110,000 that the disgruntled civil servant received to hand over the information? It’s highly unlikely.

We also know for a fact that the Leveson Inquiry, coupled with continuing rise in the number of privacy injunctions, has effectively killed off the kiss-and-tell over the past 18 months. It helps that we also have some of the world’s most draconian laws to help protect the rich and powerful.

The threat to freedom of speech under a new system of statutory regulation goes without saying, but it seemed that too many people at the inquiry – including Leveson himself – were simply paying lip service to the notion.

Before he reaches his conclusion, I hope he reads the excellent ‘There Is No Such Thing as a Free Press’ by Mick Hume, who argues that attacks on the popular press have “always been a code for snobbish fear and loathing of its ‘vulgar’ readership”.

If some seek a new ‘statutory framework’ for press regulation,” he argues, “let them copy out the First Amendment in the US Constitution, which makes it illegal to pass any law ‘abridging the freedom of speech, or of the Press’. Unfortunately, in the current climate that seems highly unlikely.

We already have the legislation in place to prosecute illegal practices by journalists. Many of those arrested at The Sun, for example, were held on suspicion of aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office, an obscure offence under common law, rather than legislation, dating back to 1783 that few journalists even knew existed.

Throwing even more laws and regulation into that melting pot is likely to benefit the only group able to actually understand any of them: lawyers.”