MP tells PCC chair Lord Hunt: 'You're being paid £180k for three days a week to shimmy and shift the sands'

Lord Hunt today told MPs he was paid £180,000 for a three-day week as chairman of the PCC and that he could chair new press regulator the Independent Press Standards Organisation.
 
IPSO is set to be and running on 1 May and a five-person body, including press industry representatives John Witherow and Paul Horrocks, is in the process of recruiting a chair.
 
Hunt was taking questions from the Commons culture and media select committee.

Conservative MP Conor Burns said that for the “existing leadership of the PCC to be even contemplating being the leadership of the new body risks not being the break and fresh start” that the public demands.

Hunt replied: “A number of people say it was all your idea, this new body, how dare you walk away? That is why I am now taking the ‘I’m not ruling myself out and not ruling myself in’ route.”

He said that the existing complaints-handling staff from the PCC will transfer over to the new regulator and that himself, former Mail on Sunday editor Peter Wright and Lord Grade will be the directors of IPSO – which is a Public Interest Company – until the new directors are appointed.

So far all the national newspapers –  except the Guardian, Independent and FT – have signed up to IPSO. Hunt said that all the major magazine publishers have signed up as have the “overwhelming majority of local newspapers”.

It was pointed out by MPs that over the last 12 months, since the Leveson report was published, the Mail titles and News UK have been the papers most likely to breach the PCC Code.

Conservative MP Tracey Crouch said: “These complaints have happened post Leveson…,that change in culture is not happening."

Hunt said: “This will be quite a lengthy process. It will be up to the new body to prove itself.”

He insisted that IPSO would will be an improvement on the PCC because it has new powers to determine where corrections are placed in newspapers and to ensure compliance with the Editors’ Code”

He said that it would have the power to investigate cases like that of Chris Jefferies and the McCanns. And he suggested that such an investigation could be launched into press reporting of the Plebgate row involving Andrew Mitchell MP. The Sun is currently defending a libel action against Mitchell.

Lord Hunt insisted that IPSO complies with the recommendations in Lord Leveson’s report despite an at-times incredulous response from some MPs.

Publishers have said IPSO will not seek approval from the independent recognition panel set up by Parliament under the terms of the Royal Charter.

Labour’s Ben Bradshaw said: “Do you accept that recognition from an independent recommendation panel is an essential part of Leveson’s recommendations?”

Hunt: “I believe that on page 1757  Leveson says it’s up to the industry to set up an independent effective regulatory system.”

Bradshaw also questioned whether a margin of three-two was the "substantial majority"of independent members which Leveson said should be on the appointments panel.

He added: “Why does this body require consensus when Leveson made it clear there should be no veto?”

Bradshaw also said that the fact this appointments panel must take into account the views of publishers when making its decisions also called into question its independence.

Hunt:“ We are talking about a self regulator – I think IPSO does meet Lord Justice Leveson's requirement that the industry must support any new regulator."

Labour MP Paul Farrelly said: "IPSO has said publicly it will deliver all the key elements Lord Justice Leveson called for in his report. That’s simply not true is it? It doesn’t deliver independence, it doesn’t deliver arbitration that is absolutely central to his views…It doesn’t also deliver the regulator board itself taking responsibility for the Standards Code."

He added:  "Rarely, after eight years on this committee, do sessions make my blood boil – but on listening to what you Lord Hunt say in the future ideal world you would love to do …despite being in the position of being chair of a body that ‘s been in transition all too long. I’m afraid that in misquoting Leveson, in misportraying what he said, I’ve found this an exercise in your being paid £180,000 by the industry itself for three days a week to shimmy and shift the sands."

 

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