The public wants a diverse and free press that doesn't abuse its position

Our newspapers could be one step away from the sort of political control that would make an Ayatollah embarrassed

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The Independent Online

If we believed half of what we had been told, this Monday was to be the most important day in British political history since the signing of the Magna Carta.

You can't blame the newspapers for making a big deal of the Commons vote on press regulation - efforts are still being made at this late hour to find cross-party consensus - but something highly significant has indeed been at stake, even if it is doesn't quite threaten the future of democracy itself. It has been difficult to preserve a sense of perspective amid the blizzard of hyperbole and moral blackmail, and hard to steer a course between vested interests and honest conviction.

All the while, as if to remind us why we're here in the first place, people are still being dragged from their beds at dawn to answer questions on phone-hacking, including last week a woman who is seven months pregnant. (Well done to the Metropolitan Police for showing such courage in this relentless pursuit of the truth: if only they'd been as assiduous in refusing the Murdoch shilling.)

I find it almost impossible to know what to think about the Leveson fall-out any more, a natural consequence of being assailed by so much certainty on either side. Our newspapers are one step away from the sort of political control that would make an Ayatollah embarrassed. That's according to the newspapers. Or they're going to be allowed to roam wild, corrupting public life and hounding ordinary people. That's according to Hugh Grant.

Whatever we may think of his viewpoint, it is hard not to admire Mr Grant: the command of his brief, his articulacy, his determination, and his moral courage, are an example to all politicians. But he is not a politician, and I feel uncomfortable about the position accorded to his Hacked Off group, who, in the post-Leveson discussions, have been treated by as if they are a bona fide political party.

They certainly represent the victims of phone-hacking, but they cannot claim to speak for the great British public, who - in case you may have forgotten - bought the News of the World in their millions, lapping up the tales of private indiscretions by public figures without a thought about how those stories reached them. And while no one can gainsay the poor Dowler family, I don't believe it's right that they should be the sole arbiters of whether a new form of regulation to curb the excesses of the Press is strong enough or not. On the other hand, the newspapers shouldn't take the public for patsys.

Don't they have enough faith in people who have, throughout history, defended life and liberty, and who have fought for freedom of speech at home and abroad, rising up in rebellion against our political masters if they truly tried to shackle those who are holding them to account? The public knows what it wants: a diverse and raucous press that's free to give politicians, business leaders and maybe even movie stars a right old chasing, but that doesn't abuse its power and position. It's up to government to ensure the former, and let the law of the land look after the latter.