Worthing West MP Sir Peter Bottomley has spoken out in support of regional and national papers over the Leveson inquiry on press standards.
Believing firmly that local papers such as the Herald and national titles should not be regulated by the government, he joined a total of 85 other MPs and Lords signing a letter to Coalition supporting the media by the Daily Telegraph.
This stood squarely against the view of the eight-month Lord Leveson inquiry launched in the wake of the News of the World scandal.
Its 2,000 page findings contained within a report released last week recommending that moves be considered to examine a new system of media monitoring backed by state regulation. However, Lord Leveson praised the local press, whom he praised for making a valuable community contribution.
Speaking to the Herald, MP Sir Peter said: “I trust our courts and also trust the Police, so I don’t believe that the odd mistake (in the media) justifies state interference.
“I have been MP here in Worthing for 15 years now. I haven’t had any serious complaints to deal with over local papers including the Herald during that time.
“I don’t believe that the media should have any special provisions, except over data protection to allow them to protecting sources, as they should be allowed to investigate.
“While I was in my previous constituency, a local paper did in fact write a defamatory article about me, claiming that I had been given special treatment over a road that was due to go through my garden – but that was completely untrue as I had nothing to do with the decision on that. The paper corrected it the following week.”
The letter signed by Sir Peter calling for press freedom of speech to be preserved read: “As Parliamentarians, we believe in free speech and are opposed to the imposition of any form of statutory control even if it is dressed up as underpinning. It is redress that is vital not broader regulation.
“No form of statutory regulation of the press would be possible without the imposition of state licensing – abolished in Britain in 1695. State licensing is inimical to any idea of press freedom and would radically alter the balance of our unwritten constitution.”
It also added there were “serious concerns” that statutory regulation could shift focus of many media groups too far in favour of digital media such as Twitter.
In response to the situation, Prime Minister David Cameron said in parliament last week that he was “wary” of moves towards regulation of either the regional or national press. He indicated a limited period of time be allowed for papers to devise a stronger means of ensuring journalistic standards.
MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, Tim Loughton, said he had not formed a view over the Leveson report, describing it as “a complex issue which had a long way to run.”
He said: “What is needed is a simple and fast form of redress people have regarding stories in the media, so that they can have things put right. It needs to be a clear system and if it’s about a story on a front page, then an apology should be of equal size, not way back inside the paper.”