THERE will be few who will have awaited the outcome of Lord Leveson’s inquiry into media ethics more keenly than the country’s journalists.
Ours is the profession that has been in the spotlight for months. Few would argue that much of what has emerged has been ugly and indefensible.
No journalist would defend what the Dowler family were put through as they waited for news of their missing daughter.
But few, once the facts were known, understand why legislation already in place wasn’t called upon to deal with those who were using potentially illegal means to invade people’s privacy.
Yesterday though, Lord Leveson drew a clear distinction concerning the regional press saying that while complaints about accuracy and other issues were made about regional titles, the criticisms of the press culture raised at the inquiry did not affect them.
On the contrary, he said, the regional press had been much praised. We would see that as a validation of the different approach local newspapers take to working with the communities in which they are based and which they serve.
Nevertheless, the Leveson hearings and subsequent report have been a salutary experience for all journalists who feel chastened and bruised as a result.
But this is also a profession which is determined to rebuild its reputation and see it return to its past position as the trusted defender of communities that so much of its work strives to deliver.
It is impossible to see how that goal can be delivered from within the fetters of statutory regulation.
Yes the press has shown that it needs a firmer hand. A new system of regulation would help to restore public confidence and ensure that complaints are dealt with fairly, swiftly and openly.
But just as we need a system that defends the rights of the innocent and the vulnerable, we need a means of supporting this country’s great traditions of investigative journalism and free speech.
If anyone thinks that will be done by regulation via the politicians then they need only look around the world to see where that could possibly lead.
Free speech is a cornerstone of democracy and that is why it is vital journalists are given the opportunity to develop a tougher form of self-regulation and to make it work.
For once you take that away, it will be impossible to turn back.