Richard Desmond's decision to pull his titles out of the Press Complaints Commission brings statutory regulation of newspapers and magazines a "step closer", the Culture Secretary said last night.
Jeremy Hunt criticised Desmond's Northern & Shell – publisher of the Express and Daily Star newspapers and a raft of celebrity magazines including OK! – for ending payments to the Press Standards Board of Finance, which in turn pays for the PCC.
"I would think the last thing he [Desmond] would want is statutory regulation and by undermining the system of self-regulation he risks bringing that a step closer,'Hunt told an audience at the London School of Economics last night.
"I think it was a curious and regrettable decision."
The PCC said will no longer deal formally with complaints against Northern & Shell publications but will instead "assist individuals to frame their complaints".
Hunt's talk last night was interrupted for a time by around 30 student demonstrators who chanted "Minister of Culture, Tory vulture" and "Tory scum" at the event in central London.
The Cabinet minister was speaking to journalist Ray Snoddy when the event was interrupted.
Protesters, who were booed by members of the audience, left after around ten minutes.
The student demonstrators had questioned whether Hunt could be a neutral judge of the rights and wrongs of the takeover bid for broadcaster BSkyB by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.
Hunt laughed off the demonstration, saying the LSE had a "great role as the crucible" of free speech before going on to say he expected his decision on whether to allow the proposed takeover to be "judicially challenged" whatever conclusion is reached.
The decision was passed to Hunt after Business Secretary Vince Cable was stripped of his responsibilities for media regulation after being recorded telling undercover reporters he had "declared war" on Murdoch's media empire.
Hunt said he could not provide a "running commentary" on what is "a quasi-judicial process", adding: "I can't get drawn on this, sorry.
'This is a decision that is likely to be judicially challenged by the side that is disappointed."