Michael Gove, has claimed the Leveson Inquiry into press standards is creating a "chilling atmosphere" towards freedom of expression.
The Guardian reports that in a speech to journalists at Westminster yesterday, the education secretary echoed the concerns of senior figures at News International about the impact of the inquiry.
Edinburgh-born Gove, who began his career on the Press and Journal and worked for STV and the BBC before joining The Times where he rose to assistant editor, told the parliamentary press gallery: "I want to concentrate on the big picture and the big picture is that there is a chilling atmosphere towards freedom of expression which emanates from the debate around Leveson.
"I think there are laws already in place which we should respect and principles already in place that we should uphold which are central to making sure that this country remains free."
Gove, reported The Guardian, acknowledged that some journalists had broken the law. But he said laws were already in place to deal with "rogue" reporters.
"It is undoubtedly the case that there were serious crimes which were committed, but we know that these crimes were serious because they broke – if the allegations are proved – the already existing criminal law.
Gove added that the Leveson inquiry posed a danger of judges and other elements of the establishment acting as arbiters on press freedom.
"There is a danger at the moment that what we may see are judges, celebrities and the establishment – all of whom have an interest in taking over from the press as arbiters of what the free press should be – imposing either soft or hard regulation on what should be the maximum of freedom of expression and the maximum of freedom of speech.
"Politicians should recognise that we have nothing to gain and everything to lose from fettering the press, which has helped keep us honest in the past and ensured that the standards of debate are higher in this country than in other jurisdictions."
Gove, who is known to be much admired by News Corporation chairman, Rupert Murdoch, praised Murdoch's decision to replace the News of the World with a Sunday edition of the Sun at a difficult time for the press as sales decline.
He pointed out: "That is why whenever anyone sets up a new newspaper – as Rupert Murdoch has with the Sun on Sunday – they should be applauded and not criticised, and why journalists should be more assertive in making the case for press freedom.”