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A FREE press is essential to a truly democratic society, writes Oxford Mail editor Simon O’Neill.

Weaken the former and you weaken the latter. It really is as simple as that. There are no half measures when it comes to the regulation of a free press. You cannot have ‘a little bit of legislation.’ It’s all or nothing.

Am I being paranoid? You bet I am.

There are some people in power out there – politicians and public servants included – who utter fine words about democracy and accountability and then do all they can to cover up their corruption and hypocrisy. They have scores to settle.

The press does have a lot to answer for and, if truth be told, we have brought much of this upon ourselves.

As for the Press Complaints Commission in its current form, it has had its day.

If Leveson flushes out the immoral, illegal and downright despicable practices of a small section of our industry, he will have done journalism and society as a whole a great service.

If he advocates a regulatory body backed by legislation and that is implemented by this Government, he and every politician who supports him will go down in history as the people who made future curbs on press freedom possible.

The pendulum has swung too far towards a small but powerful section of the press that has thrown its moral compass out of the window. Of that there is no doubt.

The rabid clamour for legislation is pushing it too far in the other direction and it is society as a whole, as well as the honest, responsible press vital to a functioning democracy, that will suffer.’