Britain’s 300-year-old free press is under attack as never before, Viscount Rothermere, chairman of DMGT, publisher of the Daily Mail, warned last night.

He said that a liberal democracy ‘cannot exist’ without the Press, now the target of criticism from ‘politicians and so-called celebrities who are the loudest in flaunting their liberal credentials.’

Lord Rothermere, addressing the London Press Ball, raising money for the Journalists’ Charity in its 150th year, said the Leveson inquiry into media standards had an ’impossible remit’ from a Government that had still not published the Chilcot report into the Iraq War 11 years after the conflict.

A Daily Mail report this morning says that  Lord Rothermere said many journalists were being ‘crushed by the full weight of the law,’ unlike ‘those in the City whose greed almost caused our entire banking system to collapse.’

He told guests, including the Countess of Wessex and London Mayor Boris Johnson, that in the ‘current anti-Press climate’ there was ‘great danger of forgetting all the good work newspapers do and how vital their contribution is to the freedoms we enjoy in this country.’

‘So to our many critics I say this: remember that those freedoms are protected by a small and determined army who sometimes literally put their lives on the line to shine a light in dark corners of the world.

‘And that army is under attack and undervalued as never before.

‘So for the sake of our industry and for our democracy, I ask for more understanding and appreciation of the demands placed on Britain’s journalists every day in their quest to establish the truth.’

Lord Rothermere expressed concern that ‘if we continue denigrating newspapers and undermining the work of the countless decent and honest journalists, not just in London but in every region, every town, we could end up destroying the very keystone upon which this country is built: freedom of speech.’

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