Dacre's press cards plan facing Desmond veto

Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre's' plan to lock publishers into a new-look Press Complaints Commission via changes to the UK Press Cards scheme is facing major opposition.

Lord Black, representing press owners' body Pressbof, told the Leveson Inquiry last week that there was broad industry support for a new press regulator which would lock publishers into membership by controlling access to press cards, Press Association copy and possibly even major advertising deals.

It is proposed that the new regulator would have the power to levy fines of up to £1m in extreme cases and tie in publishers via five-year contracts.

But Press Gazette understands that Richard Desmond's Northern and Shell has vetoed the press cards aspect of the plan because it believes it would be contrary to competition law.

The NUJ is the biggest issuer of press cards and general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said she believes the scheme is unworkable because of the need to provide for freelances. She condemned the Pressbof plan for a new regulator as 'more of the same'and an attempt by an 'old boys' club'to retain control of press regulation.

The NUJ favours an independent regulator backed up by statute and involving a more diverse group of industry and public voices.

The plan to ban journalists working on newspapers and magazines outside the proposed Pressbof-backed self regulation scheme from holding press cards is the brainchild of Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre who has put it forward to the UK Press Cards Authority.

Press Gazette understands that Express editorial director Paul Ashford wrote to the UKPCA on 6 July – three days before Lord Black appeared at Leveson – warning that the move would be a 'serious breach of UK and EU competition law".

He said: 'The loss of accredition for journalists working on Express Newspapers' titles would severely impinge on its ability to publish those titles.'

He said: 'Under the proposed changes to the rules, Express Newspapers would be required to join the PCC in order to obtain accreditation. The question of whether it chooses to do so is irrelevant to that of whether its journalists should be entitled to accreditation…

'The imposition of such a requirement gives rise to unjustified discrimination against Express Newspapers."

Northern and Shell has opted out of press self-regulation via the PCC in recent years creating a major question-mark over the viability of the system.

One of the major challenges facing any voluntary system of press regulation is creating one whereby all publishers are compelled to take part.

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