The National Union of Journalists is stepping up its call for the introduction of fines for newspapers which breach codes of practice.
In her submission to the inquiry, Michelle said a new regulation body set up to replace the Press Complaints Commission must be able to fine newspapers which breach the code “recklessly, repeatedly or carelessly”.
The union proposed that the fines would need to be levied on an “equitable basis” based on a paper’s size, which could be based on the title’s circulation, website hits or their basic advertising rates.
In her submission, Michelle writes: “The only sensible penalty can be fines and the ability to insist on the size and placement of a correction or apology.
“Real penalties of this sort would quickly persuade editors to deal with complaints themselves very early in the process rather than waiting to be instructed by the new regulator – the best solution for all.
“With the present system, it is to the editor’s advantage to negotiate endlessly with the PCC until eventually (at worst) being obliged to place a short adjudication somewhere inside the paper.
“Research shows that very few of the complaints that are actually adjudicated by the PCC at present are reckless, repeated or careless and it is unlikely that with as few as 20 upheld adjudications a year that more than two or three newspapers would face fines.
“Of course with a tougher regulator, there may well be more upheld complaints, but the point of a good regulator is to ensure that standards are high.”
The union also repeated its call for a conscience clause in all journalists’ contracts so they can stand up for a principle of ethics without fear of being dismissed.
The inquiry is being chaired by Lord Justice Leveson to investigate the role of press and police in the phone-hacking scandal and aims to make recommendations on the future of press regulation.