Speaking at the organisation's conference in Glasgow, Donald Martin said the debate is becoming "increasingly corrosive".
On Friday, Scotland Yard confirmed that they had passed a file containing 'new material' to the Crown Prosecution Service following fresh allegations of wrongdoing at the News of the World.
But Martin said the continuing debate was deflecting attention from "more serious and urgent concerns".
"Too often we are seen as villains," he said. "The reality is that we are firmly on the side of the angels or, at least, the side of those who deserve the protection of the angels.
"Take for instance the continuing debate about phone tapping. I don't want to intrude on private grief but we continue to be assailed - internally as well as externally – on the issue.
"Phone hacking and data blagging provide genuine concerns for all those worried about responsible journalism, both inside the industry and outside.
"But that legitimate debate is becoming increasingly corrosive - and often hijacked for political reasons that owe little to high-minded concerns over responsible journalism.
"And, worse, this deflects attention from what I suggest are currently more serious and urgent concerns, such as threats to press freedom and - for many in the press - survival itself."
He added that there is a danger in time that the public will believe journalists and editors have no respect for the law.
"The problem is that there is too much that we don't know and an overabundance of speculation that has yet to be thrashed out.
"The danger is that as this story drags on – for years now – our enemies can create an impression with the public that editors and journalists have no respect for the law.
"That is absolute nonsense. Both our own codes and in some cases the law itself provide defences for legitimate journalism that is in the public interest.
"But the key thing is the phone tapping issues date back to 2002. Surely the question is now for those genuinely concerned for responsible journalism, is it happening now?
"There have been a wealth of further inquiries that have found nothing. Scotland Yard has sent its latest report to the prosecuting authorities. Let's hope that will now bring this sorry episode to an end. The whole of the UK press - even where there has been not a scintilla of evidence of illegal activity, such as the local and regional press – continues to be tarred by the same brush.
"Surely it is time to move on to some very real and very current issues."
He indicated that such issues include the reform of libel laws, which he said is "arguably the one single issue that affects everyone in all sectors of the media".
Photo: Barrie Marshall
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