Press freedom under 'determined attack' by politicians warns Southern Daily Echo editor

Freedom of speech across the country is at risk from a "determined" attack by politicians, the president of the Society of Editors has warned.

Ian Murray said there were "tough battles" ahead in reforming regulation of the press.

The Southern Daily Echo editor was speaking the day after Home Secretary Theresa May insisted the "vast majority" of politicians do not want to censor the press.

Addressing the Society of Editors' annual conference in London yesterday, May said: "I believe wholeheartedly in a free press. I've argued today that a free press is vital if we are to confidently claim that we live in a democracy."

Murray has just taken on the presidency at the body, which represents editors across newspapers, magazines, radio and television.

He stressed that the regulation system proposed by the political parties will not only affect national papers.

"By now we all hoped that an agreement would have been reached with the politicians for a collective way forward to meet the challenges set by the Leveson Report," he said.

"Alas, as we know all too well, that has not yet been achieved and there are tough battles yet to win."

"It is fitting then that at a time a free press, and with it our free media and a free speech in general, are under attack in such a determined way, that the Society of Editors is able to remind politicians and the public that the battle does not engage just a handful of national titles, but all of the press," he said.

"Attempts to split the regional press from the national titles during the recent debates over regulation have failed; even if we do not always see eye to eye on some issues.

"When the big issues of free speech and an independent press are at stake, we stand together."

Referring to the Royal Charter on press regulation, which was signed by the Queen last month following a meeting with Government ministers in the Privy Council, May said: "I know practically every journalist has a visceral distrust of any system that could lead innocently or otherwise to what amounted to censoring the press.

"That's an understandable anxiety and one that I share.

"But there is cross-party agreement for a royal charter and I genuinely believe that most politicians – indeed the vast majority – have no wish whatsoever to censor the press. Far from it."

The charter will create a watchdog to oversee a new press regulator.

Media organisations will then be free to sign up or stay outside the new system of regulation.

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