Clegg wants law to back regulator

Independence: Nick Clegg
Independence: Nick Clegg
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NICK Clegg has called for a guarantee that the new regulator of the press is independent.

The Sheffield Hallam MP and Deputy Prime Minister said in the House of Commons ‘a change in law is needed to assure that the regulator is independent for good’.

But he said a system of statute-backed self-regulation could work.

Mr Clegg disagreed with David Cameron, who said: “We should be wary of any legislation that has the potential to infringe free speech and the free press.

“The danger is that this would create a vehicle for politicians, whether today or some time in the future, to impose regulation and obligations on the press.”

Mr Clegg said: “In my view there are two big, liberal principles at play in this debate: on the one hand, the belief that a raucous and vigorous press is the lifeblood of a healthy democracy; on the other, the belief that the vulnerable, the innocent and the weak should be protected from powerful vested interests.

“A free press does not mean a press that is free to bully innocent people or free to abuse grieving families.

“What I want now is for us to strike a better balance between these two liberal principles so that our media can scrutinise the powers that be, but cannot destroy innocent lives.”

Sheffield South East MP Clive Betts, whose own private life was reported in red-top tabloids, said: “My view is that Leveson’s proposals are a reasonable and sensible approach, balancing freedom of the press with the need to protect individuals.

“I think the Milly Dowler phone hacking case showed to people misbehaviour of the press was not limited to coverage of politicians and the press but also affected ordinary people. There was a climate where the press felt they could do what they wanted.”