Lebedev warns against 'dangers' of press curbs

Newspaper chairman Evgeny Lebedev cautioned against curbing press freedoms yesterday, warning he had seen first hand the problems of a constrained media.

The son of former KGB operative Alexander Lebedev spent his early years in Russia and told politicians its press still struggled to hold institutions to account.

Heavy regulation of the industry was fraught with “dangers”, he told MPs and peers on the privacy and injunctions committee.

“Having grown up in a country which had no press freedom whatsoever and in fact doesn’t have very much press freedom now either, I can see how having a free press that can hold institutions to account is a very important part of democracy,” he added.

Lebedev, who took British citizenship in 2010, insisted newspaper owners must put aside rivalries to tackle the problems currently blighting the media and has managed to secure an agreement from a number of other proprietors to work on joint proposals for industry reforms.

He took control of the companies that run the Independent and Evening Standard after they were bought by the Lebedev family.

“I thought proprietors should speak to each other and that very rarely happens,” he told the committee.

“I have spoken to a small group so far and got agreement from a few people.

“I can’t for obvious reasons go into who they are yet but the thinking behind it is that there should be at least a discussion and a proposal coming from its proprietors as well as from editors, as well as from the Leveson inquiry.”

Pressed on the decision to reinstate journalist Johann Hari, who was exposed for plagiarism last year, to the Independent Mr Lebedev said the organisation had made changes.

“The mistakes and faults Johann made have been added into our code of conduct to make sure they don’t happen again,” he said.

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