The world, apparently, will come to an end on December 21 of this year.

For many of us in the media, the fear is that our world – and yours – may begin its inexorable journey towards doom as early as next week, with the publishing of the report into press ethics and standards by Lord Justice Leveson.

I don’t know if the ancient Mayans, who some believe predicted global catastrophe to befall us just before Christmas, enjoyed anything resembling free speech and a vibrant press. Somehow I doubt it. I have the impression Mayan society didn’t go in for kiss and tell exposes on the royal family, probably because they were into human sacrifice back then .

While I feel certain Lord Justice Leveson has at least dismissed the idea of ritual disembowelling as a deterrent to be used against wayward red top tabloids – although some of the more vocal critics of the press might applaud such measures – I have no doubt we are approaching a critical point in the history of freedom in this nation.

Should, as seems more than likely, Sir Brian have come to the conclusion that statutory legislation – the passing of laws – should be required to back up a new and tougher regulatory regime to keep the press in check, then we will have a fight on our hands.

And by ‘we’ I do refer to us all.

For be in no doubt, what is at stake is far more than curbs on whether The Sun or The Mirror can splash on the naughty off the pitch antics of some Premier League football player, nor even whether the Telegraph and the Guardian can print the expense accounts of MPs run amok with their John Lewis catalogue. While both scenarios are more than likely to fall foul of even the so-called lightest of statutory regulatory touches, I am convinced that as the years roll by initial laws will be toughened and expanded to the point where the free speech and democracy at both national and local level will find itself under threat. When judges and panels of so-called experts sit to decide what you have the right to know, then our free society is truly at risk. At this point I appreciate that many reading this will be thinking: “well, you would say that, wouldn’t you.” Which is fair comment, but, I would protest, no reason why I should not say it.

Most of the arguments, if not the true facts, in this debate have been well aired by the public inquiry hearings and the wealth of media debate that has surrounded them.

On the one side there have been the advocates for imposing on the press harsh laws that will keep us in check. Those backing such measures include the usual suspects: a smattering of celebrities, and a number of MPs. Harder to dismiss as self-interested are the families who have been the subject of press intrusion, including the relatives of murdered school girl Milly Dowler, whose mobile phone was hacked into by a private detective on behalf of the now defunct News of the World.

Among the rubbish spouted by some Hollywood stars and B-list celebrities amounting to a wish to control their image, a great deal of common sense has been spoken by those calling for a better regulated media.

However, demands to prevent phone hacking, harassment, snooping and illegal payments to police officers and others in authority, while understandable, fall squarely into the area of ‘crimes the police should have been investigating anyway.’ New laws are hardly required here.

After all, it is not as though the British press does not already live within the remit of many laws, including defamation, contempt and, yes, the laws of the land that apply to any company and citizen. And, as has been pointed out on several occasions, the whole Milly Dowler and phone-hacking story was brought to light by a newspaper, not the police, not the regulated broadcast press, and certainly not some government-appointed panel of so-called experts into what the public has the right to know.

Opposing the arguments for statutory regulation are those of us in the media who believe that there can be no such thing as a light-control on freedom. A ‘dab’ of statutory regulation will inevitably become a heavy hand of oppression. You only have to look at how eagerly local authorities have used laws created to meet the threat from terrorism to snoop on their citizens, to realise how gleefully they will seize on the opportunity to use laws to curb press freedom to keep their excesses hidden.

At the heart of the debate lies the question of whether self-regulation has worked for the press in this country. Plainly, in the light of the investigations into wrong-doing – still to be proved in law - and some of the obvious excesses there have been failings in the current system. Yet the regulations that control the BBC and ITV have hardly proved effective in the last few weeks in ensuring no excesses can take place.

Ultimately it is not the regulatory system that counts, it is how it is applied. A new, tougher self-regulatory system has been put forward by the newspaper industry. It includes a system of real fines and contracts to ensure newspaper sign up. I would say this should be given the opportunity to work.

Others are watching. Law-makers in other countries look to the UK for the gold-standard of liberties. If we are seen to be curbing press freedom, why should other regimes not follow suit?

At the moment this country is still a free nation. We abide by our laws, and on the whole we are free to do as we wish. We are a people who are governed by a system that says all is permitted except those matters we have made illegal. Taking away a free press is a large step on the road to a society where the reverse is true, where we become a people who can only do what the law says is permissible and all else is not permitted. The difference is not so subtle, it is what makes us free.

The press has lost a lot of trust over the years. We must wait and see whether Lord Justice Leveson decides we deserve another chance to regulate ourselves, or whether 300-years of press freedom, and with them the safeguards against tyranny, are consigned to history.