IAIN Stewart says he is ‘keeping an open mind’ on the future of the press.
Mr Stewart, the MP for Milton Keynes South, was speaking after a group of 42 Tory MPs signed a letter rejecting self-regulation of newspapers.
Neither Mr Stewart, nor his MK North counterpart Mark Lancaster, signed the missive, which calls for an independent regulator.
The letter comes in the wake of the Leveson inquiry, with Lord Justice Leveson due to give his verdict on the culture, practices and ethics of the British press.
And Mr Stewart said he was keen not to prejudge the findings of the inquiry.
He told the Citizen: “I am keeping an open mind on the matter.
“The Leveson Inquiry was set up to look at these issues in depth. Rather than prejudge his findings, my view is that we should wait for his report to be published and consider his recommendations calmly and maturely.”
The letter – signed by, among others, both of neighbouring Northampton’s MPs Brian Binley and Andrea Leadsom – admits talk of statutory regulation would ‘cloud the debate,’ but also rejects a beefed-up form of press self-regulaation.
The full text reads: ‘After eight months, 650 witnesses and 6,000 pages of evidence submitted to the Leveson Inquiry, we can be clear about two things. Firstly, that a free press is essential for a free society. Secondly, that there are fundamental weaknesses in the current model of self regulation which cannot be ignored.
‘No one wants our media controlled by the government but, to be credible, any new regulator must be independent ofthe press as well as from politicians. We are concerned that the current proposal put forward by the newspaper industry would lack independence and risks being an unstable model destined to fail, like previous initiatives over the past sixty years. These concerns are shared by the NUJ.
‘We agree with the Prime Minister that obsessive argument about the principle of statutory regulation can cloud the debate. Instead we must do what is necessary to create a genuinely independent system. The Defamation Bill is currently going through parliament with the support of all parties and the newspaper industry. This proves that, when people try, it is possible to make sensible changes to the law.
‘We should also keep some perspective: the introduction of the Legal Services Board in statute has not compromised the independence of the legal profession. The Jimmy Savile scandal was exposed by ITV and the Winterbourne View care home scandal was exposed by the BBC, both of whom are regulated by the Broadcasting Act. While no one is suggesting similar laws for newspapers, it is not credible to suggest that broadcasters such as Sky News, ITV or the BBC have their agenda dictated by the government of the day.
‘The worst excesses of the press have stemmed from the fact that the public interest defence has been too elastic and, all too often, has meant whatever editors wanted it to mean. To protect both robust journalism and the public, it is now essential to establish a single standard for assessing the public interest test which can be applied independently and consistently.
‘The Prime Minister was right to set up the Leveson Inquiry. While it has been uncomfortable for both politicians and the press, it also represents a once in a generation opportunity to put things right and Parliament must not duck the challenge.’