Industry chiefs move to heal press rift over PCC

TAbloids and broadsheets have waged a war of words over wakeham

Moves are under way behind the scenes by leaders of the newspaper industry to take the heat out of an escalating row between national broadsheets and tabloids that could see press self-regulation destroyed.

The row over the way the Press Complaints Commission is run has broken out as chairman Lord Wakeham steps down while his role in the Enron collapse is resolved.

Editors of The Daily Telegraph, The Independent and The Guardian are calling for an overhaul of the commission in a move which has infuriated the tabloids.

In this week’s Press Gazette, Mirror editor Piers Morgan claims there is a witch-hunt by The Daily Telegraph and the other broadsheets against the tabloids and the commission.

But in another interview, Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore claims his criticisms of the PCC are not designed to destroy it but rather to strengthen it.

The Guardian on Wednesday joined the Telegraph and Independent in calling for PCC reform, with a scathing leader reiterating Moore’s claims that the relationship between the commission and powerful figures in the industry, in politics and the palace has become too "cosy". It contrasted that with what the press would say if other self-regulatory bodies acted in the same way.

The example of PCC director Guy Black’s holiday in Italy with his partner Mark Bolland – deputy secretary to Prince Charles – and News of the World editor Rebekah Wade has been cited as evidence of this cosiness.

Moore wants a PCC run on more formal lines and also thinks there should be a new chairman – he does not want Lord Wakeham to return.

Les Hinton, executive chairman of News International and chairman of the Editors’ Code Committee, said: "It is fair to say there is a lot of competitive emotion colouring the present climate. I am not defending or attacking anyone in saying that it is critical for the sake of newspapers and a free press in this country for the leaders of the newspaper industry to think objectively about what’s good and important for the industry by working out a proper, functioning, agreed process of self-regulation."

Papers had changed, Hinton stressed, adding: "We must not underestimate the enormous good work that’s been done."

After a meeting on Tuesday of the Press Standards Board of Finance (Pressbof), the industry body which finds the funds for the PCC, Lord Wakeham’s future was deferred and chairman Sir Harry Roche is anxious to talk down any split in the ranks.

"My personal view is that to talk about two sides is really overstating the position," he said. "We are all aware views have been expressed in our media about self-regulation but I don’t think it devolves into sides taking totally opposite views.

"This view is shared by other senior executives, as opposed to editors. The most sensible thing for the industry to do is to let the PCC settle down with Professor Robert Pinker in place [as acting chairman, replacing Wakeham] whom we believe will do a good job, and let the process work."

But Moore believes some of the broadsheets’ concerns are now being taken on board. "I am very glad that there are signs the industry is listening to public anxiety about the way the PCC is run," he said.

One industry observer said: "If only David were still around to knock a few heads together." The late Sir David English’s round of shuttle diplomacy in 1993 averted the last big crisis for the PCC.

He enlisted the help of Rupert Murdoch to bring Mirror Group back to the commission after it withdrew in a row over using gym pictures of the Princess of Wales.

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