The newspaper industry is close to an agreement on the creation of new press regulator but there remains a “difference of opinion” over the proposed arbitration service – with the local regional press “yet to be persuaded” of its merits.
Around 100 industry representatives met yesterday to discuss the new watchdog with Press Complaints Commission chairman Lord Hunt, who said they had reached a broad consensus on a new “contract model”.
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This would give the regulator powers to fine newspapers up to £1m and allow for the creation of an arbitration service recognised by the courts that could see judges award higher libel damages to publications which were not signed up to the new regulator.
“What I thought was particularly significant this morning was the general endorsement of the direction of travel,” Hunt told reporters.
“Undoubtedly there are areas still to be considered… but I sense we’re closer to an agreement than we have ever been.”
There were, however, “differences of opinion within the industry” over how best to organise the arbitration process.
“On the one hand you have the local and regional press who feel very strongly,” said Hunt. “Some of them have never had a complaint against them, they’ve never had a defamation action against them, and therefore they need to be persuaded that this arbitration arm will be an important part to their process and indeed that they would contribute to the cost.”
Newspapers and magazines that in the past had been subjected to significant claims “can see that there is an advantage to having an arbitral arm”, said Hunt.
The industry will work over the Christmas period to finalise its contract proposals, with a meeting scheduled for 10 January to finalise its “road map”.
Hunt said that at the industry meeting they did not discuss Cabinet Minister Oliver Letwin’s plan to recognise a new press regulator by a Royal Charter backed up by legislation.