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Media figures speak out on privacy and regulation of the press

Press Complaints Commission chairman Sir Christopher Meyer and director Tim Toulmin have given evidence to the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, which is investigating privacy and the press and the regulation of online information.

They had previously submitted a dossier of information outlining the range of its work to protect the privacy of individuals.

The pair spoke against a system of fines, saying they would be arbitrary, counter-productive and undermine the Commission’s ability to resolve complaints, adding that there was no sign that complainants or the general public supported their introduction and that published and private apologies were more popular.

They also said a privacy law aimed at the press would give comfort only to the rich and would be fraught with risk.

Also giving evidence at the hearing was the National Union of Journalists, which defended self-regulation of the Press but said the current system needed to be strengthened with penalties and the ability for third parties to make complaints.

General secretary Jeremy Dear said union members often complained about being pressured into breaking the PCC and NUJ codes of conduct in the pursuit of stories.

He told MPs: “We think there needs to be a system of penalties that penalises those that breach these codes.

“They all sign up to (the codes) yet when there is a commercial reason to do so they are willing to break them.”

Professor Chris Frost, chair of the NUJ’s ethics council, also called for a “conscience clause” for journalists, which would see journalists having some say about the ethics of collecting and sourcing a story.

But Paul Horrocks, president of the Society of Editors and editor of the Manchester Evening News, said he had not seen journalists pressured into breaking the PCC Code of Conduct.

He said: “That’s not, in my experience, a big problem that people are being forced into breaking the code or pushing the boundaries of what the code and law say you can do.

“One bad apple doesn’t mean that the whole barrel is rotten. I don’t accept that there is widespread bad practice.”

Mike Jempson, director of the MediaWise Trust, demanded tougher sanctions against newspapers, proposing that there should be a newspapers ombudsman, a system of compensation and a statutory right of reply.