Leveson Inquiry: Evgeny Lebedev defends political talks

 

Evgeny Lebedev has said he sees "no issue" with politicians and newspaper proprietors meeting each other because "we operate in the same sphere of existence".

The chairman of the companies which own The Independent and London's Evening Standard said newspaper owners should be able to meet senior politicians as long as they do not "attempt to influence policy".

The son of former KGB operative Alexander Lebedev told the Leveson Inquiry into press standards he had never been asked by a politician for any of his newspapers to lend support to a particular party or policy.

He said: "I am interested in finding out about Government policy and what is going on in Government and politicians are interested in finding out about what is going on in the media world."

Mr Lebedev, who took British citizenship in 2010, took control of the companies that run the Independent and Evening Standard after they were bought by the Lebedev family.

He added: "Politicians over-estimate the influence of newspapers and it does make them more feeble. They pay too much attention to what the press say."

Mr Lebedev said he counts Mayor of London Boris Johnson as a friend, adding: "There are various degrees of friendship, but yes I consider him as a friend.

"Having knowledge from the horse's mouth about London issues for me is very valuable," he said.

He said that he sees Gordon Brown and his wife Sarah "every so often" but has only met David Cameron four times since he became Prime Minister.

Mr Lebedev said he would not have a problem with a statutory press regulatory body, adding: "I do not see any problem with any statutory underpinning."

But he warned that a new press watchdog should not curb freedom of expression in the British press, highlighting the state-controlled parts of the Russian media.

"This country has a robust and diverse press which needs to be protected," he said.

"It needs to be treasured and valued because I have seen the other side.

"As we have seen in recent revelations there has been an extraordinary abuse of power by the press and that should not happen again."

PA

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