Be careful we don’t lose freedom of the Press

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How much do you really care about a free Press?

How much does anybody really care? It is highly unlikely anybody will go into a polling booth with the intention of voting for the candidate who promises to make fighting for press freedoms their number one priority, yet it is something everybody says we must have.

The economy, crime, the health service, are all hot potatoes which bring folk out on election day, but whether or not the stuff you read in your newspaper or on a smartphone could be in some way influenced by a self-interested minister doesn’t register. Nor should it.

But a free and fair press is something everybody takes for granted and all the huffing and puffing from both sides of the press reform debate will not have made a blind bit of difference to Mr and Mrs Nine to Five. To them the incessant coverage of the Leveson inquiry into press standards and the 18 months of fall out will smack of self-interested whining – on the part of both camps.

The arguments have been technical and the possible consequences intangible – until last weekend when a recording of a phone call was released to the media. It was an advisor to culture secretary Maria Miller, who was tasked with the role of deciding how to implement the Leveson recommendations.

The foolish flunky told a Telegraph journalist who was investigating Miller’s dodgy expenses claim that Miller was “looking at Leveson”, with the inference clearly being “back off or else”, which of course has been denied by the Government.

But this is the clearest example of how politicians and lawmakers would not be able to help themselves if the Royal Charter became widely used, which it won’t be because most editors refuse to sign up to it and have instead pledged allegiance to the successor of the much criticised Press Complaints Commission.

The coverage of the alleged intervention by Miller’s people followed hot on the heels of the outrage that greeted the news a local newspaper journalist from Surrey had been served with a warning by police officers after a convicted fraudster complained she was being harassed after he confronted her about allegations she was up to her old tricks again.

While this terrifying development is not a direct result of the Leveson Report, it is due to a ripple effect, and a scenario which many fear will be repeated across the country unless a line is quickly drawn in the sand. The public needs to regain trust in the Press, but this will only happen if we all play fair and that there can be guarantees there will be no influence from politicians as to what is written.