Proposals are an 'attack on press freedom'
The beefed-up press watchdog proposed by Lord Justice Leveson represents a "serious attack on freedom of expression", a leading media lawyer has warned.
Tony Jaffa, head of the editorial and regulatory media team of Westcountry law firm Foot Anstey, said the judge was anxious to distinguish between the good behaviour of the local newspaper industry compared to the national press, which was heavily criticised.
But at the same time Justice Leveson also proposes all newspapers are subjected to the same regulatory regime – including punishing fines of up to £1 million and ordering publication of corrections and apologies – with the watchdog "underpinned" by statutory regulation.
Mr Jaffa said: "Leveson said his proposal is not and cannot be characterised as statutory regulation of the Press.
"I do not agree. His proposals, if implemented, would constitute a serious attack on freedom of expression and an unprecedented restriction on the freedom of the Press.
"The Prime Minister was right to reject statutory intervention. The risk to freedom of expression is just too great."
MPs from across the region – who are likely to vote on proposals following cross-party talks – were broadly in favour of the key Leveson recommendation.
Former Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter, said the report was "thorough and thoughtful". He said: "After seven similar reports in recent decades this should be the definitive word on press standards.
"David Cameron promised to implement Leveson if it wasn't 'bonkers'. It's now over to the Prime Minister to fulfil the promise."
Conservative Gary Streeter, MP for South West Devon, said: "I think Lord Justice Leveson has got the balance just about right with an independent body backed by the full force of the law, with press freedom guaranteed."
Adrian Sanders, Liberal Democrat MP for Torbay, who sits on the cross-party media and culture select committee, said: "The Leveson report makes a range of very sensible, well measured recommendations.
"The Government, the Press and other bodies should implement these as soon as practical. It's clear that press regulation in the past failed, especially in curbing tabloid invasions of privacy."