The Leveson Inquiry is Not the First Such Inquiry, But We Must Now Make Every Effort to Ensure That it is the Last

10/12/2012 17:07 GMT | Updated 09/02/2013 10:12 GMT

William Hague is right when he says that Britain has a vital role, especially in these turbulent times, to be advancing and defending the cause of human rights and free speech across the world.

But he is simply wrong to claim that implementing the recommendations of the Leveson report will undermine our ability to promote these values among those countries that currently undermine them.

The countries that William Hague was alluding to are countries that kill, imprison and torture journalists, where there is one government sanctioned TV station, the internet is monitored and censorship is brutal.

What is being debated here in the UK is giving a legal underpinning to a new regulatory code, which the journalists themselves will have drawn up. The proposal is for regulation guaranteed by law. It's not about state regulation of the press, but about ensuring the independence of the regulatory body.

And my fear is that those that want to argue that this is in any way comparable to the violations committed by other governments across the world are simply trying to avoid engaging in a real debate on the issues.

A free press and protection of the right to freedom of expression are essential to the health of any democracy. Investigative journalism in particular has a proud tradition of exposing serious wrongdoing and is vital for holding public bodies to account.

But that is not what is at stake in this debate.

It is not the first time that this issue has surfaced. The press and public alike are only too familiar, and in many cases sick of, the media scandals and subsequent inquiries into the operations of the press.

I welcome the fact that there is now, in a way there hasn't always been in the past, an emerging consensus that the form of regulation proposed by Lord Justice Leveson is appropriate, proportionate and reasonable - far from the 'bonkers' recommendations that the Prime Minister said he feared.

What is currently disputed is whether or not this system will be guaranteed by law.

"I have been a long standing supporter of self regulation of the press in principle. But I regret that the experience of the last decades have proven to me that in practice, self regulation without statutory underpinning simply hasn't worked. As Lord Justice Leveson made clear, the legal guarantee is "essential" to the proper regulation of the press."

We support it not because we are, in principle, in favour of it, but because in practice we have learnt that without it, the regulation simply won't work.

The fact that we have had seven such inquires in seventy years is proof that the response of the press in the past has been found wanting. The Leveson inquiry is not the first such inquiry. But we must now make every effort to ensure that it is the last.