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MPs reject call for official media regulation

The role of the Press Complaints Commission has been backed by MPs, who recommend its position should be strengthened.

The Commons media select committee ruled out relying on the law to regulate the press.

Its review of the system follows the conviction of Clive Goodman, the royal editor of the News of the World, for phone tapping without lawful authority, and the hounding of Kate Middleton, the then girlfriend of Prince William.

Its report said: “To dispense with the current form of self-regulation and to rely exclusively on the law would afford less protection rather than more, and any move towards a statutory regulator for the press would represent a very dangerous interference with the freedom of the press.”

The report was made after interviews with a number of media experts and newspaper executives, including Paul Horrocks, editor of the Manchester Evening News and Bob Satchwell, director of the Society of Editors. National Union of Journalists general secretary Jeremy Dear was also called.

The recommendations want to draw lessons from recent events to strengthen the existing set-up of self-regulation through the Press Complaints Commission.

The report said: “We do not believe that there is a case for a statutory regulator for the press.

“We continue to believe that statutory regulation of the press is a hallmark of authoritarianism and risks undermining democracy.

“We recommend that self-regulation should be retained for the press, while recognising that it must be seen to be effective if calls for statutory intervention are to be resisted.”

But it warned: “If the industry is not prepared to act unless a breach of the law is already shown to have occurred, then the whole justification for self-regulation is seriously undermined.”

And it called for the inclusion in staff contracts of a clause requiring adherence to the Code of Practice as a condition of employment “… which we believe would safeguard journalists who believed that they were being asked to use unethical newsgathering practices,” the report said.

The committee said the system for regulation of the press raised serious and complex issues and suggested that a broader investigation might be needed.

The witnesses to the committee included Mike Jempson, director of The MediaWise Trust, Chris Frost, chairman of the Ethics Council of the NUJ, information commissioner Richard Thomas, Mick Gorrill, head of regulatory action division, Les Hinton, executive chairman of News International and chairman of the Editors’ Code of Practice Committee, Arthur Edwards, the royal photographer of The Sun, Robin Esser, executive managing editor of the Daily Mail, and Eugene Duffy, group managing editor of MGN. Sir Christopher Meyer and Tim Toulmin, of the Press Complaints Commission also gave evidence.

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