'Let the local press speak ,' privacy inquiry MPs told

Unhappy: PCC director Black

MPs inquiring into media intrusion are facing renewed calls to hear evidence from regional newspapers amid concern at the increasing hostility developing between the Government and the national press.

This week press watchdogs clashed with the Commons media select committee when they found themselves virtually in the dock and self-regulation on trial.

During sharp exchanges, one committee member told the Press Complaints Commission to clean up its act while MPs, in turn, were challenged by the media to go to the police if they had evidence of newspapers making payments to policemen.

There is disappointment that only two editors of newspapers outside London – Paul Horrocks of the Manchester Evening News and Peter Cox of the Daily Record – have been invited to appear.

By contrast the editors of The Sun, News of the World, Daily Mail, The Guardian and The Independent have all been called in.

Guy Black, director of the PCC, Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, and David Newell, director of the Newspaper Conference, have all written to the committee urging it to hear the opinions of regional and local editors before reporting to Parliament.

This week’s hearing followed a behind-the-scenes row over select committee member Chris Bryant writing an article in The Guardian claiming it was widespread practice for newspapers to pay policemen.

When Les Hinton, chairman of the PCC’s code committee, accused the MP of pre-judging the outcome of the inquiry, which has yet to deliver its final report, select committee chairman Gerald Kaufman hit back by calling Hinton impertinent and offensive.

There was a further clash over evidence given at an earlier hearing when Sun editor Rebekah Wade gave an affirmative answer when asked whether payments had been made by newspapers to policemen.

Hinton said: “I am chairman of News International and I have no reason to believe that there have ever been payments.

“I have spoken to Rebekah. She tells me she has not authorised payments to policemen.

“My understanding was that she said there had been payments made in the past.” But Bryant hit back saying: “We have the odd situation of having had a News International editor before us who was extremely candid.

“We now have the chairman of the code committee, who is also the chairman of News International, giving us a different story. Is it time for you to clean up your act?” Hinton then interjected: “Clean up our act? Are you saying we’re dirty?”

After this week’s hearing, Satchwell said the Society of Editors would present fresh evidence to the committee. “We intend to put in some supplementary evidence as a result of some of the things we have heard during the oral evidence sessions.”

Newell added: “Britain’s 1,300 regional and local newspapers are read by 84 per cent of the UK adult population and are far wider read than the national press.

“Our newspapers are closer to their readers and the issues that affect their daily lives.”

By David Rose

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