Tom Watson is no friend of a free press | Letters | Politics

Alan Rusbridger invites Tom Watson’s critics to declare their interests (The tawdry secrets of the attack on Tom Watson, Journal, 29 February). I am delighted to do so. As a determined defender of press freedom, I did not regard Mr Watson’s speech in the House of Commons on 9 September 2010 as spine-tingling or courageous. Mr Watson overlooked the fact that virtually all the egregious behaviour by tabloid newspapers he criticised was already actionable or contrary to the criminal law.

It was regrettable that police did not pursue energetically the additional evidence that emerged from the convictions in 2007 for phone-hacking of Clive Goodman of the News of the World and Glenn Mulcaire. However, to move from a failure of policing to a demand for state involvement in the regulation of newspapers was utterly wrong then and remains so today. Ministers are to be congratulated for refusing to impose Lord Justice Leveson’s proposal for press regulation underpinned by statute. Journalists, editors and proprietors have excellent reasons to oppose what Mr Watson wants. It is contrary to Britain’s democratic tradition in which government is held accountable in the public interest by the courts and the press. Alan Rusbridger opposed state-sanctioned regulation at the time. In liking and respecting Mr Watson, he should recall that the former MP’s preferred outcome is incompatible with the traditions of this great newspaper which he edited with formidable skill and courage.
Prof Tim Luckhurst
Principal, South College, Durham University

Polly Toynbee (Why the calls for legal curbs on the press? Because the watchdog has no teeth, 27 February) is right to argue that the answer to abuses in the national press suffered by Caroline Flack and others is robust, independent regulation of the kind recommended after Part One of the Leveson inquiry.

Newspapers are read more widely today than at any point in their history, with online readerships more than making up for declining print circulations. Yet for all their power and presence in society they remain effectively unregulated, with the most popular complaints-handler, Ipso, controlled by an unholy alliance of newspaper editors, executives and compliant politicians. Too close to both the industry and to government, Ipso’s claims to protect the public are as weak and disingenuous as its professed commitment to press freedom.

The treatment suffered by Ms Flack and countless other less famous individuals at the hands of a few national newspapers will repeat again and again, unless independent regulation is introduced.
Nathan Sparkes
Policy director, Hacked Off

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