Editors fear they would be shackled: Esther Oxford found there was little support for the proposals in the provinces, where investigations are seen as being threatened by censoring 'judges'
Tuesday 12 January 1993
EDITORS of regional papers yesterday gave their views on Sir David Calcutt's recommendations for statutory regulation of the press:
Keith Parker, Wolverhampton Express and Star:
am a member of the Press Complaints Commission. I have seen at first hand the enormous amount of work that the commission does in looking at every single complaint. At present the climate at the commission is one where editors really sit up and take notice of what people are saying. Our membership is voluntary and I think voluntary membership is the only way to create such a climate. We can't have a situation where 'judges' are appointed by the Government. That would amount to censorship.
'Bringing in such legislation would not only clip the wings of the tabloids; it would shackle local newspapers as much as nationals. Local papers spend a lot of time printing highly confidential reports from health and education departments - we print the stuff that no one else will touch. Often the sheer volume of these leaked reports put national newspapers off. It is down to the regional papers to do this kind of work but under the regulations this will become increasingly difficult.'
Andy Hughes, Sunderland Echo:
have always used our own judgement in the past to decide whether or not to print an apology for an inaccuracy. The system works in the majority of newspapers, the only trouble being the differing perceptions as to what is 'accurate' and what is 'inaccurate'. I don't think a government-
appointed statutory tribunal deciding for us would necessarily help matters.'
Nigel Hastilow, Birmingham Post:
'If the Government's policy passes you can be sure that such stories as the financial irregularities of the regional health authority or the 'goings on' in the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad would never see the light of day. These regulations are the thin edge of a wedge. If they are passed it will soon be possible to censor stories to the point where we become anodyne newspapers working on government handouts.'
Gerry Isaaman, the Hampstead and Highgate Express:
someone who has said that reforms could be brought in to curb the worst excesses of some people. I would support the law of trespass for example and the law against electronic surveillance. But you cannot legislate singularly for the press. Rules like this have to affect everyone - for instance the cowboy who sells insurance door-to-door as well as the man offering to Tarmac your front lawn. I think the proposals could do the Government great harm. The situation will create martyrs. Some journalists will go to prison if they believe strongly enough that their story is in the public interest.'
Bob Adams, Chester Chronicle:
'I think the regional papers are paying for the poor standards of tabloid reporting. Whenever I go out and about, local people bring up the subject of the Sun. I resent being made to feel responsible for the inaccuracies of the tabloids.
'These proposals are just another attempt to throttle the press, gag us and stop us doing a job as we see fit. I think that if the proposals come into force, regional papers in particular will be inhibited from investigative journalism.'
John Marquis, Falmouth Packet:
'The Government's proposals are an attempt to saw away at democracy. But the issue here is not so much one of the freedom of the press, as the more important right of the public to be informed. I seriously doubt that the proposals will come to pass. I don't think the British people will allow it.'
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