Press Complaints Commission chairman Lord Hunt has promised to meet with campaign groups to achieve a “broad consensus” on the future regulation of the press.
In recent weeks lobbying has grown increasingly feverish around the future of press regulation as many have speculated that Lord Justice Leveson will call for the creation of a new statutory regulator when he issues his report at the end of this month.
Delivering the Society of Editors lecture in Belfast last night Hunt said: “If, as I hope it will, the report strikes a realistic note and it does seem possible to build a broad consensus, going forward, then within a week or two of the report being published, perhaps there should be a conference, bringing together representatives of the press, the campaigning groups and those of us involved in regulatory reform, in the hope of establishing that broad consensus.
“I personally would be delighted to arrange such an event.”
His comments suggest that Pressbof, the press owners’ body which funds the PCC, may be prepared to alter its blueprint for a new press regulator to stave off the threat of new statutory controls.
But Hunt appeared dismissive of the central criticism from the National Union of Journalists – that broader industry voices beyond editors and owners need to be heard in the new look PCC.
He said: “…to those who say journalists should have a stronger voice in the system, let me remind them that editors are journalists too – very successful ones at that.”
Responding to those who suggest a new independent press regulator should be established in statute, Hunt said: “There is very good reason why we have shied away from statutory regulation of the press, ever since the Licensing Act was repealed in 1695.
“There are philosophical arguments, given the integral role a free press necessarily plays in the delicate balance of rights, responsibilities and accountability in a nation which has no written constitution.
“It would also take time to legislate – certainly many months, probably years.
“In contrast, the system I have proposed is more or less ready to go.”
Defending the new proposed regulator, which would see publisher’s tied into it via ten-year-contracts, Hunt said:
"Ultimately, the really important contract in the system I propose, is not the one between each publisher and the regulator. It is the contract between the industry and the people of the United Kingdom.
"A solemn undertaking to eradicate the unsavoury, unethical and, often, illegal practices that have defiled and diminished journalism.To disown those over-aggressive paparazzi who have no regard for the law, human dignity or even physical safety, and blight the lives of innocent people. But an undertaking, too, to recognise and embrace once again the solemn, timeless, constitutionally vital role the press uniquely has, of leaving no stone unturned in its determination to uncover shady business practices; dodgy deals; hypocrisy and double standards in public life; and corruption of every kind.
"That is what public interest journalism has always been about."