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November 28, 2012

Fraser Nelson says Spectator will play no part in ‘state-sponsored press regulation’

By Andrew Pugh

The Spectator editor Fraser Nelson has told readers that the magazine will play no part in a new system of “state-sponsored press regulation”.

In a leader column published on online today (which will appear in the print edition tomorrow), Nelson warned that any new laws recommended by Lord Justice Leveson to “stop the worst excesses of the tabloids” risked “exerting a chilling effect on the rest of press”.

Nelson recalled how in 1952 MPs has advocated the idea of “benign ‘statutory regulation’” and that “The Spectator vigorously opposed it then, too”.

“That is what The Spectator will now do,” he wrote.

“If the press agrees a new form of self-regulation, perhaps contractually binding this time, we will happily take part.

“But we would not sign up to anything enforced by government. If such a group is constituted we will not attend its meetings, pay its fines nor heed its menaces. We would still obey the (other) laws of the land.

“But to join any scheme which subordinates press to parliament would be a betrayal of what this paper has stood for since its inception in 1828.”

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Nelson added that with some newspapers moving toward “digital form”, they could take the same view: “On current trends the Guardian’s printed edition will run out of readers in February 2020, the Daily Express in May 2019 and the Independent in April 2014.

“Should they morph into a website (or an iPad app), who will regulate them? And how? Britain’s best-read political website, Guido Fawkes, is domiciled in Ireland.

“If the fusion of print and digital means the rules of the game need to be redrawn, then it is an ideal time to reapply the principles set down by Milton’s Areopagitica, which encapsulated the doctrine of press freedom three centuries ago.

"It may be politically difficult for David Cameron to err on the side of liberty, given the loud and angry voices demanding that he make his swoop now. But the Prime Minister is, at heart, a pragmatist and will realise that statutory regulation of the press would achieve very little — save to crush an ancient liberty that has survived every one of his predecessors. The Spectator would have no part in it."

Leveson is due to publish his report on the culture, practice and ethics of the press tomorrow.

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