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David Aaronovitch and Kathy Lette weigh in on Leveson Inquiry

07:06 07 December 2012

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Archant

Everyone from outspoken writers to local councillors in Hampstead and Highgate have weighed in with their opinion on the Leveson Inquiry as the investigation into media ethics eclipses the headli

Still hot off the press, national and local newspapers are formulating their stance on the recommendation to have press regulation underpinned by statute.

If the proposals go forward, they would create the first press laws in the UK since the 17th century.

Reactions have varied from claims about the death of the free press to applause from victims of media abuse.

However, with hundreds of pages of the 2,000-page report devoted to privacy intrusions practiced by some national newspapers, Lord Justice Leveson also pointed out the comparatively clean reputation of regional and local newspapers.

He said: “Although accuracy and similar complaints are made against local newspapers, the criticisms of culture, practices and ethics of the press that have been raised in this inquiry do not affect them – on the contrary, they have been much praised.”

But any new regulation will be extended across the entire press, though the finer details of how local papers will be dealt with versus national papers is yet to be established.

The Times columnist David Aaronovitch, who lives in Hampstead, said: “Unfortunately, we’re all involved, whether we’re implicated in it or not.

“The last time I harassed a celebrity was never.

“I think that Leveson is trying to deal with things that are not illegal and good ethics, and it’s that gap that we’re talking about and whether you need regulations to deal with the gap.”

Mr Aaronovitch instead pointed to the sway local newspapers can hold over a community.

Speaking of a series of articles about parking enforcement that ran in the Ham&High in 2006, he said: “Tom Conti was running the campaign and helped make the issue of parking wardens a big issue in council elections, and Labour were tossed out of a good council, when in fact, there were many more important issues.”

He added: “I might be more concerned about journalistic tendencies to do that than I would be about whether to doorstep Ricky Gervais.”

Leader of Camden Council, Cllr Sarah Hayward, said fines and punishment levied by any press regulating body should be proportionate.

“If there’s something on the front page of The Sun that is untrue, its impact is far greater.

“I wouldn’t expect local papers to have to see that level of fine,” she said.

She also spoke of the need for local papers to strike a balance in who they choose to cover.

The English Collective of Prostitutes, a group based in Kentish Town which campaigns for the abolition of prostitution laws, said its own complaints about intrusion by press photographers in the past have fallen on deaf ears.

Spokeswoman, Cari Mitchell, said: “What guarantee is there that an independent board will be any more responsive to the public’s complaints?”

Head of the Newspaper Society, Adrian Jeakings, who is also chief executive of Archant, publisher of the Ham&High, said regional and local papers in Britain have always been “vehemently opposed to any form of statutory involvement in the regulation of the press”.

He said: “This would impose an unacceptable regulatory burden on the industry, potentially inhibiting freedom of speech and the freedom to publish.”

Outspoken author Kathy Lette, who lives in the area took a more humorous approach to the report, which has dominated the headlines, for over a week.

“I am going to sue Rupert Murdoch because my phone wasn’t tapped.

“What a loss of reputation!

“And also, the hours I wasted being witty and erudite on the phone, just in case I was being taped.

“I bon mot-ed for Britain. And all for nothing!”

Taking on a more serious note, the author who most recently wrote the best-seller, The Boy Who Fell to Earth said: “The thing about ‘freedom of speech’ is that it’s very expensive.

“What I’d like to change are the libel laws, so that it’s easier to tell the truth without the terror of being sued.”

She added: “Local papers are a vital voice for communities. To silence them would be a tragedy.”

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