Spectator editor Fraser Nelson already feeling effects of possible state intervention in the press

The editor of political magazine the Spectator says the prospect of state-underpinned regulation of the press is already having a chilling effect on British journalism.

Fraser Nelson said statutory underpinning would be bad for “British liberty” and revealed that even the prospect of it is encouraging politicians to call him up with editorial advice.

Nelson was speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, alongside Nadhim Zahawi, who was among the 42 Conservative MPs to write a letter to The Guardian setting out an argument for a new statutory regulator.

Nelson said: “Already I as an editor am getting MPs and ministers calling me up to order that I discipline writers who displease them or take articles down in a way that they wouldn’t have even a year ago.

“The feeling is going around amongst politicians that now, finally, they are going to be able to get their say in how the press behave in Britain and it’s not a good step for British liberty.”

He insisted that he has not allowed any such requests to change anything in the Spectator but warned that this is what Britain would be letting itself in for with statutory underpinning.

“Right now the British press is very lucky in being completely free of any influence from politicians. It doesn’t matter if they give you compliments or menaces.

“But as soon as these politicians are in a position where they can ratchet up regulatory mechanisms then that changes the power mechanism.

“This would be unthinkable in America where free press is protected under the constitution.”

Asked what he thought of this morning’s Guardian letter, signed by Zahawi, Nelson said: “The problem is that in the same way that you can’t be a little bit pregnant, you can’t really have a press with a little bit of state regulation.”

Nelson admitted that the current regulatory system has not worked, but insisted that statutory underpinning would be “fundamentally” wrong, saying: “That’s the point where a free press is substituted”.

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