Publishers ‘back system of independent self regulation’

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Newspaper and magazine publishers have written to Culture Secretary Maria Miller detailing their support for the “clear majority” of Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations for the reform of Press regulation.

They said they were committed to establishing a new system of independent self-regulation, based on the principles set out by Prime Minister David Cameron, and that work was under way on a draft contract.

The principles to underpin the new regulator include independence of appointments and funding, a standards code, an arbitration service, a speedy complaint-handling mechanism and the power to demand up-front, prominent apologies and impose million pound fines.

Lord Hunt, chairman of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), is to act as a point of contact between publishers and the Government.

A letter to Mrs Miller, sent on Thursday was signed by the Newspaper Society, the Newspaper Publishers’ Association, the Scottish Newspaper Society, the Professional Publishers’ Association and the Press Standards Board of Finance.

It said: “We can confirm that we are committed to establishing a new system of independent self regulation in accordance with the five Leveson Principles outlined by the Prime Minister.

“We accept the clear majority of Lord Justice Leveson’s main recommendations, although we still have legal work to undertake on a very small number of areas including principally appointments, confidentiality of sources, allegedly discriminatory reporting and funding structures. This will be completed by next week.

“We are also taking forward urgently the recommendations from Lord Justice Leveson on the provision of an arbitral arm to the new regulator.”

A working group including lawyers, editors and senior industry executives is co-ordinating the development of a draft contract.

Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry into Press ethics, prompted by the phone-hacking scandal, recommended a statutory body to oversee a beefed-up watchdog. Mr Cameron is reluctant to take that step, warning it could pose a future threat to free speech, but has told the industry it must act fast to convince politicians and the public that it is not necessary.

Lord Hunt said this week he hoped to see a new form of Press self-regulation at work by early next year. He said he would expect the new form of self-regulation to have an early “opportunity to prove its independence” and show a body underpinned by statute was not needed.

Campaign group Hacked Off accused editors of trying to “pick and choose” which bits of the Leveson recommendations they would implement. Professor Brian Cathcart, its director, said: “Nobody will trust anything set up by the Press itself unless somebody with real clout is checking, on the public’s behalf, that this is not just another toothless industry poodle like the Press Complaints Commission.”