Whittingdale says press has been guilty of 'appalling failures' - but backs self-regulation

Culture committee chairman John Whittingdale told a gathering of senior editors in Belfast that the press had been guilty of some “appalling failures”.

Addressing the Society of Editors conference yesterday, Whittingdale warned there were now a “number of people who are actually already calling for statutory involvement”.

"I don't know whether Lord Justice Leveson is going to do so or not but the smoke signals seem to suggest that he may be,” he said.

“But there is no question that there are people there who just do not trust the press any longer.”

Whittingdale added: “This is the time when you have to demonstrate your absolute adherence to standards because unless you do that it will make it impossible for people like me to continue to argue that we must avoid the statutory involvement, because of the danger it runs, and that we have to give the new body that is being set up under Lord Hunt's chairmanship a last chance to work.”

Elsewhere in his speech, the Tory MP said there was a “real danger” that introducing any form of state regulation to the UK press risked creating a domino effect in other nations.  

“It would set an extraordinarily dangerous precedent. It sends a very dangerous message elsewhere.

 “There is no question that this country is seen as a real beacon of freedom, something that we should be immensely proud of.

“For the UK to set a precedent in establishing a government body with some involvement and influence over the press I feel would give a green light to all those other countries which would say, w'ell if the UK can do it, the place where parliamentary democracy was formed, the place where the Magna Carta was written, then clearly it is OK and we can do the same'.”

He added: “This is being watched around the world and may well be followed if we go down that road.”

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