Lords attack Mail in Cherie backlash

Blackstone: associated herself with Mail bashing

Ministers have rejected demands to establish an independent watchdog to probe complaints against newspapers in the wake of the ‘Cheriegate’ affair.

The first sign of a backlash has surfaced in Parliament with calls for the Press Complaints Commission to be replaced with a new body free to investigate press behaviour.

Former Tory Chancellor Lord Lamont joined forces with Labour and Liberal Democrat peers to demand an end to the present system of press self-regulation.

But while junior media minister Baroness Blackstone revealed her own unease, echoing complaints against the Daily Mail, she said the Government was satisfied with the workings of the PCC. "The Government continues to believe that effective self-regulation, with a code of practice overseen by the PCC, is preferable to any statutory measures."

However, she warned editors that self-regulation continued to be monitored and the Government "would not hesitate to suggest improvements if appropriate". She underlined her warning by telling peers the Lord Chancellor was reviewing the law on contempt of court, after raising concerns with the PCC.

In August, Lord Irvine abandoned plans to make payments to witnesses in active proceedings a criminal offence, in favour of the PCC imposing a voluntary ban through tougher self-regulation.

Lord Lamont said there were "too many cosy deals between the PCC and the tabloids", adding: "What we want is not conciliation or arbitration. It is adjudication by a genuinely independent body," he said.

LibDem peer Lord Taverne expressed "contempt for the vicious hate campaign carried out by the Daily Mail against the Blairs, especially Mrs Blair". He said: "The Daily Mail campaign has shown little regard for accuracy or for the truth. It reeks of hypocrisy and smug self-satisfaction."

Baroness Blackstone said: "I associate myself with the remarks made about the ‘vicious hate campaign’ carried out by the Daily Mail in relation to Cherie Blair. However, for the time being, we have to stick to the current arrangements whereby it is up to any party who feels he has been maltreated by our newspaper industry to make a complaint to the PCC."

Guy Black, director of the PCC, said the Editors’ Code Committee was on course to meet the Lord Chancellor’s end-of-year deadline for its response to the call for a ban on witness payments through tougher self-regulation.

"We are keeping the Lord Chancellor’s department up to date with progress and will meet with officials before Christmas," he said.

By David Rose

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