The boss of the Press Complaints Commission today held up local newspapers as the ‘gold standard’ for the rest of the UK media in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry.
Lord Justice Leveson is expected to publish his report into press standards and the phone hacking scandal with the next two months, with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg among those backing some form of statutory regulation.
However PCC chairman Lord Hunt is fighting to retain a beefed-up version of the watchdog as a “regulator with teeth” as an alternative to state control.
And he has highlighted the “highly professional” local and regional press as the model for the rest of the industry to follow.
Lord Hunt’s comments came in an interview with the East Anglian Daily Times’ renowned political reporter Paul Geater.
He was visiting the EADT offices in Ipswich to get the views of senior editors from regional publisher Archant on bringing in a new regulatory structure.
Lord Hunt said: “I’m a strong believer in self regulation, and because a small minority of the industry has been guilty of appalling behaviour doesn’t undermine the fact that the overwhelming majority of the press – particularly in the local and regional press – always observe the highest professional principles.”
“I always found that my local and regional press set the gold standard – they were very critical of me often but that is all part of the function of local democracy. They quoted my opponent when he attacked me, but I never got upset about it.
“I have every respect for the local and regional press that set that gold standard, and it is the gold standard that I want to see extended to other areas of the press.
“My confidence is that the press will want to sign up to a more comprehensive system of regulation across the board.”
Lord Hunt has advocated a system by which newspapers and magazines sign up to the Society of Editors’ code of practice for a minimum of five years with a system of fines for media organisations that subsequently breach it.
He told the EADT that some industries, like banking, did have government regulators – but that had not prevented them from running into moral and ethical difficulties.
In a meeting with press reform campaigners at the Liberal Democrat conference in Eastbourne, Mr Clegg has said he is ready to support a new system of newspaper regulation with some form of statutory underpinning.
Amid speculation that his Conservative coalition partners want to avoid statutory regulation, the Liberal Democrat leader has indicated that the party is perpared to go its own way on the issue.
A spokesman for the Deputy Prime Minister said: “Nick set out his view that a statutory backstop could support strong independent press regulation, and that the key test should be whether the report addresses the deep injustices which have been caused to the Dowler family and other victims.
“He underlined his commitment to implement Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations on condition that they are proportionate and workable.”