Director of the Society of Editors Bob Satchwell last night expressed surprise at Sir Harold Evans’ support for a statute-backed press regulator.
Evans used the Cudlipp lecture to support the Leveson plan and condemn the “gross distortion” of campaigners in the press who have characterised statutory-underpinning as state control.
Satchwell responded afterwards by saying to Sir Harold: “I don't think anyone would disagree with a statute to protect freedom of the press, but the problem is we don't have the protection of a bill of rights.
“The problem we have is the politicians will say ‘yes you can have that’ but they add one more word, which is ‘but’. ‘We mustn't do anything to interfere with freedom of the press, but’.
“I'm surprised at you saying so strongly we should go down that route with all the battles you have had with politicians in the past, with judges and with lawyers. Can we really trust the politicians of the future? That's why we don't like it.”
Responding, Sir Harold said: “In the draft bill there isn't a ‘but’ in there, ministers are required to honour the freedom of the press.
“There is no ‘but’ in the Hacked Off bill, the Lord Lester bill, or the Lib Dem bill.
“We have to watch the minutiae, don't have Ofcom, I don't believe in exemplary damages.
“When I sat in those law courts I had nothing to fall back on…most of the confidence cases, the reporting of Parliament, Cabinet, Thalidomide. I really do feel that if II were back in the courtroom I would be glad to have an unequivocal statement that the freedom of the press should not be breached.”
Evans said the misrepresentation of the Leveson recommendations was “distorting the public flow of information – it's outrageous”.
Asked later for his prediction on what will happen next he said: “My guess is they will have a Royal Charter. There is majority in favour of SU.
“If it goes to a free vote in the House of Commons I'm told the majority would vote for SU – but I don't think David Cameron wants it.”