The Sunday Times reported yesterday that Lord Justice Leveson is now "widely expected" to recommend some form of "light touch" statutory press regulation and warned that this could be "the beginning of the end of a free press".
The phone hacking scandal was appalling but shackling the press would benefit only the rich and powerful. Statutory regulation, or an independent regulator underpinned by legislation, would be the beginning of the end of a free press which, as Winston Churchill said, “is the unsleeping guardian of every other right that free men prize”.
Lord Justice Leveson would surely not want that to be his legacy. Even a touch of statutory regulation would signal the end of three centuries of press freedom. Legislation has a habit of evolving as it is interpreted by the courts and seized on by politicians. Supposedly independent bodies get stuffed with placemen and women who frequently do the government’s bidding. It is the feared slippery slope.
Nobody envies Lord Justice Leveson’s task. Enhanced self-regulation is a model that can work but would be seized on by press critics as a soft option. Criticism would rain down on him. Yet he should stand tall. A free press is too important to be so easily surrendered.