Rusbridger says press "under-regulated and over-legislated"

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger told the Leveson Inquiry today the British newspaper industry has been “under-regulated and over-legislated.”

Rusbridger urged for a greater balance between the two, but praised the Inquiry for bringing about more nuanced questions about regulation and statute.

He said he “wouldn’t be against the use of statute” if a new regulatory body could enforce its powers to deal with early-stage libel claims, adding that statutory underpinning of a new adjudication system would make settling libel and privacy cases cheaper and easier.

He said the Press Complaints Commission’s 2009 report into phone hacking was “worse than a whitewash” and “undermined the principle of self-regulation”. In the report the PCC concluded there was no evidence it had been misled over phone hacking by the News of the World, which closed last summer in the wake of further hacking revelations.

“Even when they were lied to by the most powerful media player,” Rusbridger said, “there was nothing they could even do about that. Its inadequecies were fatally exposed”.

Also speaking this afternoon was Sunday Times editor John Witherow, who shared concerns expressed earlier today by James Harding that statutory backing may lead to political interference in the press.

Witherow said the reputation of the UK press abroad needed to be taken into consideration: “Our libel laws have created a lot of controversy around the world,” he said, adding that “if we moved to a statutory body, it would send a message worldwide that we’re taking a tougher stance on the media.”

Witherow also admitted that his paper tried to blag details of Gordon Brown’s mortgage from Abbey National by calling the bank and posing as the former prime minister.

The Inquiry continues tomorrow with evidence from magazine and regional editors.

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson