Tories rally behind press regulation call

By staff

Conservative politicians have called on the government to legislate to establish some form of regulation of the press.

An open letter to prime minister David Cameron published in today's Guardian argued that the reform proposed by the newspaper industry "risks being an unstable model destined to fail" and warns that the state needs to act.

It highlights the defamation bill currently working its way through parliament as an example of effective cooperation between the press and politicians – showing, the letter notes, that "it is possible to make sensible changes to the law".

Signatories include former environment secretary Caroline Spelman, who lost her job in this autumn's reshuffle, as well as former foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind and ex-party chairman Lord Fowler.

One of the signatories, the Cameron loyalist Tory backbencher Nadhim Zahawi, said he had changed his mind after hearing evidence while sitting on parliament's joint committee on privacy and superinjunctions.

"We'd like to see independent regulation, but possibly some kind of underpinning in statute," he told the Today programme. "That doesn't need to be invasive."

He suggested the Advertising Standards Authority as a model, arguing that it operates independently but has its "provenance" in statute.

"The prime minister was right to set up the Leveson inquiry. While it has been uncomfortable for both politicians and the press, it also represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put things right," the letter concluded.

"Parliament must not duck the challenge."