The chairman of the Press Complaints Commission has outlined plans to strengthen the body’s representation outside London.
Speaking to the Commons media select committee, Sir Christopher Meyer said he planned to advertise in the regional press for lay members.
He hopes to recruit the first member elected by public advertisement by the end of the year and, after talks with regional editors, he is planning to ask for a bigger budget.
“We will advertise around the country and not just in London,” he said.
Meyer disclosed his plans to MPs when they summoned him to explain his opposition to statutory controls of the press.
He told the committee that a privacy law had been rejected by the John Major Government when he was the Prime Minister’s press secretary.
“There is a real danger in a statutory back-up in that it is getting closer to government regulation of newspapers,” Meyer said.
There is speculation that the committee’s inquiry into media intrusion may recommend an appeals process to review PCC decisions, perhaps under new media regulator Ofcom.
Meyer assured MPs that self-regulation by the industry offered the best and quickest way for complainants to be heard. He told the MPs that Ofcom chairman Lord Curry “has no interest in becoming involved in the regulation of newspapers”.
Fining editors, he said, would be a “less effective” sanction than requiring them to publish a critical PCC adjudication against their newspaper.
“Not only would this be a lesser deterrent than the publication of a critical adjudication, it would also bring in a cumbersome system.
“Lawyers would come in behind money. Public hearings would also deter people from complaining to the PCC. The horse I am riding is the fastest and the best.”
Polls, said Meyer, showed that 70 per cent of complainants were satisfied with the way the PCC handled their complaints.
Complaints were rising and may reach 3,500 this year – which, he said, reflected the fact that the PCC was becoming better known as the place for the public to take complaints.
“Everybody in principle is equal before the code of practice. Ninety-five per cent of the work tends to be to do with ordinary people.”
Meyer, who is touring regional centres, has visited Manchester, Liverpool, Belfast, Falkirk, Dundee and Aberdeen.
Other centres pencilled in his diary for the coming months include Wolverhampton, Barnsley, Oldham, Norwich and Cardiff.
By David Rose