Trade and and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt will exercise “due diligence” over any takeover move for the Telegraph Group, Parliament was assured this week.
Media minister Lord McIntosh gave the undertaking after being pressed by the Liberal Democrat media spokesman Lord McNally.
McNally told him any would-be purchaser should go “through the most rigorous examination before ownership is allowed, to guarantee both probity and editorial independence”.
In a guarded reply, McIntosh said: “In that hypothetical situation, I am sure the Secretary of State will exercise her powers with due diligence.”
McIntosh also resisted calls for the Government to empower the Press Complaints Commission to impose heavy fines on newspapers that publish inaccurate stories and refuse to print prompt and prominent corrections.
Making the plea, LibDem peer Lord Taverne said: “The Press Complaints Commission as it is now constituted is a feeble body which fails to control the excesses of the press.”
His plea followed a similar call by the Commons media select committee, which recommended compensatory awards for “serious” breaches of the Editors’ Code.
But McIntosh said “something which is modestly compensatory and causes no pain to a national newspaper could be desperately damaging financially to a small, local newspaper”.
Former PCC chairman Lord Wakeham argued that fines would be a “remedy only for the rich and the powerful and would do nothing for ordinary people”.
McIntosh said the way in which an error was corrected was a matter for the PCC. “I understand that, from time to time, it does insist on a particular size and location of display of an apology or correction,” he said.
But he insisted: “The PCC is an independent body. The Government has no control over it and, therefore, no powers to enable it to impose fines.”
By David Rose