Tomlinson: Statutory press regulation now inevitable

One of the country’s leading media lawyers has said that the idea that a revamped Press Complaints Commission will work is “a complete non-starter”.

In the first session of the Society of Editors Conference there appeared to be broad concensus from editors such as Chris Blackhurst of The Independent, The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger and James Harding from The Times that a beefed-up PCC supplemented by a new press ombudsman would be an appropriate response to the hacking scandal.

But according to Hugh Tomlinson QC: “PCC 2 is a complete non-starter.”

He told the conference: “If instead of the media we put in judges, barristers, the City, MPs…the idea that they should be regulating themselves without any statutory intervention would be laughed at by the press. It would be subject to searing criticism.

“Why is the press in any different position?”

And he said that it was a common misunderstanding to think that statutory regulation meant government regulation.

He said: “Judges are subject to statutory regulation not by politicians, but independent statutory regulation.”

Thomlinson said the idea that the press could settle on a system of self regulation which comprised a strengthened PCC without new statutory backing was “fantasy”, adding: “It just won’t happen.”

Head of the Culture Media and Support select committee John Whittingdale said there was a desire in Parliament for a “much tougher regime, probably statutory – and it’s going to be tough to resist that”.

“If PCC 2 is going to be created it’s got to be seen to be independent of the press and with real powers…That’s the very least you’re going to get away with otherwise there’s going to be statutory regulation.”

Phone-hacking lawyer Charlotte Harris said: “The public want a hanging.” She said this will lead to statutory regulation because “no-one will expect anything else or trust anything else”.

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