The incoming chairman of the Press Complaints Commission has used an interview with his local newspaper to praise the “high standards” of the regional press.
As Lord Leveson’s inquiry into press standards ended its first week, Lord Hunt of Wirral made it clear that the phone-hacking scandal should not leave a taint on the whole profession.
Speaking to the Liverpool Echo, he said he had always had “fair treatment” from the local press throughout his career as a Conservative politician.
In an editorial, the Echo welcomed his comments saying: “Regional newspapers don’t hack people’s telephones.”
Lord Hunt said: “The editors’ code of practice says all members of the press have a duty to maintain the highest professional standards and, as far as I am concerned, the regional press has always done that.
“I have known many individuals in the regional Press and they always do maintain the highest professional standards.
“I don’t think in my 35 years in Parliament I have come across any instance where anyone fell below those standards.
“The first section title in the code of practice is accuracy – that’s key – and I see all of the provisions in the code as being part and parcel of, and in the genes and fabric of, the being of the regional press.”
Lord Hunt went on: “When you look back at all the key stories that have developed, they had their origin, usually, in regional papers.
“I’ve always had fair treatment from local newspapers, but the nationals do tend to carry very critical pieces when you are in public life.”
On phone-hacking he said: “Some people have crossed the line but that doesn’t mean the overwhelming majority of journalists, like the ones I have met throughout my life, should be tainted.
“There will always be, in every walk of life, people who will cross boundaries and the rule of law. That doesn’t mean the system, itself, has to be damaged – provided we learn from what happened.”
Lord Hunt acknowledged that “time is against him” in his battle to save the PCC from abolition and safeguard the system of press self-regulation.
“I don’t want the state and I don’t want politicians interfering with freedom of expression,” he said.
But he added: “While it’s a right, freedom of expression carries with it a heavy responsibility. I have found this in all the newspaper offices I have been in – journalists recognise they do have a heavy responsibility.”
“We have to come up with a structure that will be underpinned by public support – and that’s quite a task.”
In an editorial also published today, the Echo commented: “We are delighted that Lord Hunt has so many kind and positive things to say about regional newspapers like the Liverpool Echo, and that he recognises our vital role in the community.
“Newspapers such as the Echo understand that we can’t afford to betray the trust of our readers. We exist to serve our local communities – the local press and its readers rely on each other in what is a two-way relationship.
“Our readers can trust us to source our stories and content in the correct and proper manner. The Echo doesn’t hack people’s telephones – regional newspapers don’t hack people’s telephones.”