“My view is that we should always balance in favour of a free press,” he added.
His comments are one of the clearest signs yet that senior Conservatives are uneasy with any move to introduce state control of the media. They come as Lord Justice Leveson puts the finishing touches to his report on the future of press regulation, which is expected to be published next month.
The judge’s inquiry, prompted by the phone hacking scandal at the News of the World, is expected to recommend some form of statutory legislation to replace the voluntary Press Complaints Commission.
“Something that characterises the British press is that it is good at exposing corruption and it is good at going to places where other press wouldn’t,” Pickles told Sky News’ Murnaghan programme.
“I think it was Thomas Jefferson who said that for a free society to operate then the river of a free press had to flow without restriction.”
Instead the minister hinted that he preferred some form of self-regulation: “The press are looking towards finding a good way in which people who have got a legitimate complaint can find a resource, then that’s right.”
Labour has continually pushed for a legislative solution to press regulation and yesterday the party’s deputy leader Harriet Harman insisted that “the status quo has failed”.
“I don’t think self-regulation of the media should be given another chance. It’s absolutely clear Leveson has given a great many revelations,” she told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show.
“It’s clear that business as usual has nothing to obtain. There’s not a proper press complaints system that ensures, where the press gets it wrong, the individual can complain and that will be looked at.”