Aidan Barclay: 'Don't destroy media through regulation'

The judge chairing an inquiry into press standards has been urged not to over-regulate the newspaper industry.

Businessman Aidan Barclay, who chairs the company which publishes the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Telegraph, told the Leveson Inquiry that a “relatively small number” of journalists had been accused of “indiscretions”.

Barclay told Lord Justice Leveson how he was concerned that “we don’t go too far”.

“I find it very difficult to volunteer for more regulation,” Barclay told the hearing in London.

“The media industry employs about 250,000 people in this country. The indiscretions, or alleged indiscretions, involve a relatively small number of people.”

He added: “We don’t want to destroy the industry through over-regulation. I am concerned that we don’t go too far.”

Barclay, chairman of Telegraph Media Group, said he was not sure that statutory powers are the right way forward and added: “I am a believer in self-regulation.”

In a written witness statement, Mr Barclay warned against a “backlash” following allegations of phone-hacking and payments to public officials.

“One of the biggest dangers that the press faces – in a backlash against the actions of a small minority of journalists – is that it becomes over-regulated,” he said.

“Newspapers and their websites already operate under a burdensome body of law and indeed are competing with other media organisations in the digital arena that do not seem to be subject to UK domestic law.

“It would be very damaging to the public interest if the burdens became so great that it was impossible to expose or report on matters which go to the very heart of our democracy.

“That is why we must get the balance right and ensure that not just the public is protected from the excesses of some parts of the press but crucially that that the public interest is also protected at the same time.

“I believe strongly that all those interested in freedom of expression need to recognise that newspapers are fighting for their lives.

“If we fail to invest ourselves for a new age, win new markets, and invest in the future, then democracy will be the weaker.”

Barclay told Lord Justice Leveson that he had met senior politicians.

But he said no prime minister or opposition leader had “ever asked me for a favour. And I have never asked for one”.

Barclay said he had known each of the last three prime ministers – Labour’s Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and Conservative David Cameron.

He said he could not recall any asking him to intervene in “editorial policy”.

Barclay said his relationships with leaders had been “cordial and sporadic” but not “particularly close”.

He said he saw Tony Blair a number of times.

“Mr Blair’s approach to such meetings was relaxed and social,” said Mr Barclay.

“He was interested in the press but I do not recall him ever raising specific editorial matters with me.”

Barclay said he also saw Blair’s wife Cherie on a “few occasions”.

“I had a number of meetings with Gordon Brown when he was Prime Minister,” said Barclay.

“He was, as is well known, interested in the granular detail of economic policy and we spoke often about economic theories and the state of British business.”

Barclay said Cameron was a candidate to become Conservative leader when they first met.

“I have met him on a handful of occasions since,” said Mr Barclay.

“The Prime Minister has a background in the media and I have always found him to be knowledgeable about, and interested in, the way the newspaper industry works and is developing.”

He said all three understood that The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph were Conservative-supporting newspapers and had not “asked me to change that approach”.

Barclay told the judge that he had Cameron’s mobile phone number and texted him.

He added: “If I came across something I thought was of use I would pass it on.”

Barclay said in 2010 he had a number of meetings with Cameron, breakfast at The Ritz Hotel, which his family owns, and dinner at 10 Downing Street.

He said neither he nor any “family businesses” had donated money to a political party for “at least in the last 20 years”.

But he said he had “entertained” politicians with “breakfast and dinner on a few occasions”.

He said gifts had been nothing more than “a plant at Christmas”.

  • To contact the Press Gazette newsdesk call 020 7936 6433 or email pged@pressgazette.co.uk

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