Ofcom won't be a press censor, insists Jowell

Media Secretary Tessa Jowell has moved to calm editors by reassuring them that they will not face censorship from new media regulator Ofcom, writes David Rose.

"Ofcom will have no role in the content of newspapers," she told Press Gazette in an exclusive interview.

Her statement guarantees that the industry will continue to regulate itself through the Press Complaints Committee.

Jowell was prompted into speaking out after editors launched a campaign to warn that the shake-up of media ownership rules in the communications bill could lead to state regulation of the press through the back door.

Editors’ fears were raised in the Commons by Shadow Media Secretary John Whittingdale, who said Ofcom, whose main function will be to regulate broadcasters, would have a role in newspaper transfers and a say in deciding public interest issues. "If the Government really values press freedom, the bill must make that crystal clear," he said.

But Jowell countered by telling Press Gazette: "There is a clear distinction between licensed broadcasters who are subject to very tough regulation in the public interest and unlicensed newspapers who are a part of a free press and who are not subject to content control.

"There is absolutely no intention in the communications bill that we will introduce content regulation of newspapers." She said concerns had been aroused because of "misunderstanding" over Ofcom’s role in newspaper mergers, but she insisted the regulator would have no role in content.

Newspaper publishers and the Newspaper Society have all voiced concern that Ofcom’s role could increasingly draw it into greater regulation of the press.

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