Hislop: "If the state regulates the press, then the press no longer regulates the state"

Private Eye editor Ian Hislop has spoken out against further press regulation, arguing that “if the state regulates the press then the press no longer regulates the state”.

Hislop told the Leveson Inquiry that the British press faces substantial regulation, adding that the worst excesses of the press occurred due to poor enforcement. He highlighted that many of the “heinous crimes” addressed by the Inquiry, namely phone hacking and contempt of court, are already illegal.

“I believe in a free press and I don’t think it should be regulated, but it should abide by law,” he said.

Hislop also lamented the “deeply embedded” involvment among senior politicians and News International, and urged Lord Justice Leveson to call the Prime Minister, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to give evidence.

During his evidence, which at times resembled a debate than testimony, he alluded to France’s stringent privacy law, which he labelled “draconian”. The French “are catching up with two decades of news because of the reluctance to look at private lives of people who ran them”, he said.

Hislop also spoke out against prior notification, detailing how, when stopped from running a story about Law Society president Michael Napier, his magazine spent £350,000 while the application for an injunction went through. “The lesson I learned was not to give prior notification,” he said, adding later that privacy had become “more of a problem than libel” in the UK.

Yet he called libel arbitration a “waste of time”, noting he would “rather end up in the courts because that’s where you end up anyway.” He told the Inquiry that, since 2000, his magazine has faced 40 libel actions.

Also speaking this morning was News International CEO Tom Mockridge, who took over from former chief Rebekah Brooks in the wake of the phone hacking scandal last summer. Mockridge upheld the British press for “its extent of competition, choice and ability to report with freedom”, noting that many outside the country look at the press with “jealousy”.

Following a discussion of the regulatory models of Italy and Hong Kong, Mockridge disagreed with Lord Justice Leveson’s distinction between state regulation and a mechanism of statutory backing in a self-regulatory body. “If the state intervenes, the state intervenes,” he said, noting that it would “diminish a free press”.

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