Leveson Inquiry: William Hague 'big supporter of press freedom'

Lord Justice Leveson Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry looked into the culture, practices and ethics of the press

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Foreign Secretary William Hague says the government should "err on the side of freedom" when considering plans for press regulation.

Lord Justice Leveson, who has been inquiring into press standards, will make his recommendations on Thursday.

Evegeny Lebedev, owner of the Independent newspaper, also said he was "instinctively against" state regulation of the press.

Any new system could replace the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).

Victims of press intrusion are calling for an independent regulator, backed up by law, while newspaper editors fear that statutory regulation will limit press freedom.

'Open-minded'

Speaking to the Andrew Marr Show on BBC One, Mr Hague said he was a "big supporter of press freedom" but wanted to read the Leveson report before pronouncing on it.

"None of us have seen the report yet," he said.

"So, although I'm a big supporter of the freedom of the press, I'm also a big supporter of actually reading something before you pronounce on it.

"We will have to do that, but in my case, from that philosophical viewpoint... you have to err on the side of freedom."

The government will decide how to take forward any recommendations the report makes.

Downing Street said Mr Cameron was "open-minded" about the future regulation of the press and will make no decisions before he has seen Lord Justice Leveson's report.

The prime minister had indicated previously he intends to implement Leveson's recommendations, provided they are not "bonkers".

Evgeny Lebedev, owner of the Evening Standard and the Independent, says his experiences in Russia means he is "instinctively against" state regulation of the press

Mr Lebedev told the Andrew Marr Show that growing up in Russia, where the press was over-regulated and entirely state-controlled, had resulted in him being opposed to "any form of government regulation".

"That said... I have got great sympathy with the victims of phone hacking, the families of the Dowlers and the McCanns.

"If we are to stay with some sort of self-regulation it has to be extremely different from what it was before."

Claims that News of the World journalists had hacked the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler led to the closure of the Sunday tabloid and brought about the Leveson Inquiry.

The parents of Madeleine McCann, who went missing aged three on holiday in Portugal in 2007, were also among the alleged hacking victims.

Madeleine's father Gerry McCann told the Leveson Inquiry many of the stories were untruthful, sinister or, he believed, made up.

'Scandal overlooked'

Mr Lebedev added that the problems surrounding illegal phone hacking were "not so much the regulation but the enforcement of legislation".

"I still can't quite get my head round why the biggest scandal in this is being overlooked.

"It's the law enforcement agency, the police, who should have been arresting those very journalists but they weren't, because they were on the take."

London Mayor Boris Johnson told BBC Radio 5 live it was wrong to bring in statutory regulation of the press.

Speaking during a trip to India to promote London businesses, Mr Johnson said: "I am a bit nervous we are heading in the opposite direction to many other countries in the world which are liberating their press and allowing free speech, and I think statutory regulation is not something that I would support."

He added: "If you go around sterilising, pasteurising and homogenising the media you will have a bad effect on our democracy."

Conor Burns, a Conservative member of Parliament's Culture, Media and Sport select committee, also said the "freedom of the press was equal to a free society."

Start Quote

I think the PCC has been unfairly criticised. Perhaps the best defence was the Lord Chief Justice, who said it is wrong to criticise the PCC for failing to exercise powers it never had in the first place.”

End Quote Lord Hunt Chairman of the PCC

Speaking on the World This Weekend on BBC Radio 4, the MP said he was against using the law to regulate the press.

He added: "We want to restore public confidence in the press, we want a genuine independence in regulation."

The chairman of the PCC, Lord Hunt, has set out what he believes is the "best way forward" for press regulation, which he presented to the inquiry in January.

He told Sky News: "I've been very careful not to name this new body, but it will not be the PCC, it will not be PCC II, it wont be Son of PCC.

"It will be, for the first time ever in this country, a tough, independent regulator with teeth.

"I think the PCC has been unfairly criticised. Perhaps the best defence was the Lord Chief Justice, who said it is wrong to criticise the PCC for failing to exercise powers it never had in the first place.

"It is set up in the wrong way, it is not a regulator."

The Leveson Inquiry was established by the Prime Minister in July 2011 and looked into the culture, practices and ethics of the press.

It was commissioned following allegations of illegal phone-hacking at the News of the World.

Lord Justice Leveson has been asked to produce a list of recommendations for a more effective policy and regulatory regime for the press, which would preserve the independence of the press while encouraging higher ethical and professional standards.

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