Daily Mail executive managing editor Robin Esser issued a call for the newspaper and magazine industry to defy the Government-backed press regulation Royal Charter last night.
Esser was speaking at the Society of Editors conference annual dinner as he was presented with a fellowship of the Society in recognition of his services to journalism and the Society over the course of a 56-year-career in journalism.
Home Secretary Theresa May yesterday urged journalists at the conference to work with the Government on its press regulation plan saying: "I hope that if we can try to trust one another we can make it work".
But the tone of the conference suggested that editors and publishers are increasingly determined to press ahead with the creation of the Independent Press Standards Organisation. As it stands this regulator would not meet the recognition criteria set out in the Royal Charter meaning publishers could be subject to the threat of exemplary damages and costs for both sides even if they win in libel cases.
Accepting his award Esser, 78, said: “I am a passionate believer in a free press. I believe the word free in English means free.
“I believe that the press in this country is less than totally free. I envy the American system where freedom of the press is part of the First Amendment.
“We will have to stand shoulder to shoulder – magazines, local papers and national papers – in not signing up to this ludicrous Royal Charter.
“I have been chairman of the Society’s Parliamentary and Regulatory Affairs Committee for a long time but I never thought we would be in a situation where one side of my committee would be at war with the parliamentary side.
“If I may quote Winston Churchill’s defence of democracy. Self regulation is the worst form of regulation apart from all the others that have been tried over the years in all the different countries.”
Esser began his career on the Daily Express and Daily Sketch in 1957, after national service which saw him serve in the Suez conflict.
Whilst working at the Daily Express Manchester office he recruited a young Paul Dacre to the paper. He became editor of the Sunday Express in 1986 and joined the Daily Mail in 1991, where he has been executive managing editor since 1997.
Delivering the Society of Editors lecture yesterday, Lord Grade said it would be a “catastrophe” if publishers don’t sign up to IPSO.