Paul Connew, a tabloid editor-turned-public relations expert who has followed the scandal closely, said he is worried, too. He predicted that Leveson would propose some kind of "light touch" regulation, for example one that would see publishers submit to the rulings of an independent regulator. But Connew — who counts himself among the thousands of phone hacking victims — said that the moment government becomes involved in setting rules for journalists, liberty suffers.
"It's a cliche, but it's the first step down a slippery slope," he said. "I'm not saying you're going to overturn 300 years of press freedom in one fell swoop, but you're removing one of the foundation stones."
The battle lines are being drawn as proprietors and reform campaigners prepare to fight. On Wednesday, victims of press abuse met with Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg to argue their case for greater protection against unscrupulous journalists. On Thursday, the Free Speech Network, a press lobbying group, unleashed a publicity campaign against any attempt at state-backed regulation.
The group's ad in Murdoch's The Sun newspaper was particularly stark:
"These people believe in state control of the press," the ad said over pictures of Syrian strongman Bashar Assad, Russian leader Vladimir Putin, and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. "Do you?"
Curran said the warnings were overwrought. He explained that a regulator — were one to actually be set up — would probably be a body "independent of government and independent of the press which will have some backup powers. That's a far cry from Zimbabwe."
The Leveson Inquiry: http://www.levesoninquiry.org.uk
Raphael Satter can be reached at: http://raphae.li/twitter