Andrew Marr, the BBC presenter who has enjoyed his own run-ins with the press over his private life, nevertheless says the Government should not intervene in the regulation of newspapers.
Marr, who in 2011 voluntarily relinquished a court gagging order concerning the reporting of details of an affair he had with a fellow journalist, told the Cheltenham Literature Festival that he preferred a “rude, aggressive press” to one that is shackled by statute.
“I think we’ve gone through a period of really gross misbehaviour among newspapers but I am very wary of the idea of the government in any form licensing the regulation of newspapers,” he said. “I have been the butt of some of the aggressive stuff in the press over the years but I’d much prefer a rude, aggressive, impersonate press than what is in any sense possible.”
Marr, who worked as the BBC’s political editor after editing The Independent newspaper, added: “I know that’s what the MPs are trying to do but I’m worried that once you start down that route, it goes further and further. It’s very, very difficult, if you are a politican under enormous pressure and you find you’re struggling for survival, to resist a little tweak to make the newspapers a little bit friendlier to you, I think once it’s there that’s the danger.
“The problem has been that newspaper self-regulation wasn’t real, press complaints commission wasn’t taken seriously, for good reason, therefore you verge towards the other extreme – sanction and regulation. Now, there must be some kind of middle ground.”
Marr also had some words of appreciation for the health care he received after suffering a stroke at the beginning of the year – and some critcisms of a system he says is poorly serving those who cannot afford help with rehabilitation.
“We’re brilliant in this country, absolutely fantastic and getting better all the time, at saving people’s lives,” he said. “We’ve got some great hospitals that are saving people’s lives. We then chuck them out – they can’t walk, they’re in wheelchairs and I’m very, very privileged and lucky because I have the money to pay for physiotherapy and I do.
"Out there there are uncountable numbers of people who’ve had strokes or other problems early on in life who have not had the physiotherapy to allow them to actually live a full life to get back to work and pay tax, and it’s crazy economically because if we gave them physiotherapy early on they’d be back working and paying tax, rather than being dependent on welfare, but we don’t do that.
"I think we need in this country a National Rehabilitation Service – it can’t be a free service in these conditions but it can be a service where anyone who can’t pay for physiotherapy can get help."