David Price QC: Leveson's instinct will be to regulate



A leading QC has questioned the appointment of Lord Justice Leveson to head the inquiry into press standards.
Media lawyer David Price told the Society of Editors' conference in Belfast that he was surprised the judge was given the job as he primarily had a criminal law background.
Price, who has expressed concern about the prospect of state regulation of the press, said Leveson's instinct would be to regulate.
"I was very surprised to hear he had been chosen," said Mr Price.
"He is a criminal lawyer – all his instincts will be to regulate, to look back at something that has gone wrong."
Price was one of a number of high profile media figures at the Belfast conference who voiced fears that state regulation for newspapers was on the horizon.
Lord Justice Leveson is expected to publish his findings in the coming weeks. The Government will then decide whether to adopt his recommendations.
Lord Black, executive director of the Telegraph Group, reiterated his support for an improved system of self-regulation.
He said it would be a "good outcome" if Lord Justice Leveson gave editors a six month period to try to establish their own beefed up watchdog structures, which he insisted would "support good journalism and be the scourge of bad journalism".
"I think what we have put in place or hope to put in place can deliver that," he said.
Lord Inglewood, chair of the House of Lords Communications Committee, said it would be crucial that all the press bought into any revised self-regulatory system.
"The one thing that is beyond argument is that self-regulation does not stand a chance if anybody who is remotely significant doesn't buy into it," he said.
"The last man standing has the rest of you over a barrel."
The on-going crisis at the BBC was set to influence the debate on the Leveson Inquiry's findings, he said, adding: "This event that we are seeing rolling out minute by minute as we sit here about the BBC is going to colour, inevitably colour, the debate about the conclusions of Leveson."
Chris Blackhurst, editor of the Independent, said he felt some form of statutory regulation was "inevitable" – he feared that papers would face a "deluge" in the coming weeks.
Any statutory regulation of the Press would remove a cherished freedom from British society, the new president of the Society of Editors said today.
Even the "dab" of statute that some campaigners are calling on Lord Justice Leveson to recommend would affect freedom of expression, said Jonathan Grun, editor of the Press Association.
"That dab would be only the start – in time the screws would be turned. That would eventually remove a precious freedom that we should cherish," Grun told the conference.
He added: "The liberty of the Press is the birthright of a Briton.
"Not the birthright of newspaper owners, or editors, or journalists – it is the birthright of every citizen.
"If that is extinguished it may be that some small sections of society will celebrate but over time the vast majority of the public will be the losers."
Grun said the overwhelming majority of journalists "have nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to apologise for", adding: "They can be proud of the work that they do and the high professional standards that they uphold.
"Journalism is a tremendous force for good. Vigorous, independent, ethical journalism informs the public, stands up for the public and entertains the public."

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