'Wake up or face privacy law,' warns Rusbridger

Rusbridger: “the inductry is complacent”

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger has widened the gulf between the tabloids and broadsheets by issuing a “wake-up” call for the press to reform itself or face a privacy law.

He lined up behind The Independent’s Simon Kelner in calling for an ombudsman to hear appeals against the Press Complaints Commission’s decisions and for former editors to replace working editors as members.

But Rusbridger pleaded for incoming PCC chairman Sir Christopher Meyer, to be allowed a year to settle down before developing proposals to strengthen the way the press regulates itself.

“The PCC cannot stand still,” Rusbridger told the Commons select committee inquiring into press intrusion, warning there was a danger that a law of privacy would be developed in the courts. “That is why it is a mistake for the industry to be complacent or imagine the clock can be stopped.”

Rusbridger’s views clashed with evidence from Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan, Sun editor Rebekah Wade and News of the World editor Andy Coulson. They rejected the idea of a press ombudsman and argued that self-regulation through the PCC provided the public with the best and quickest way of dealing with complaints.

The tabloid editors took the same line as Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre, who accused Kelner of betraying Fleet Street by attacking the PCC while giving evidence to the committee the previous week.

Morgan, the first of the four editors to be called this week, launched into a fiesty pre-emptive strike in defence of the industry’s record. “Where is the evidence that things have got worse and not massively better?” he demanded of committee chairman Gerald Kaufman.

“I have never known standards to be as high as they are today,” said Morgan. “When I came into Fleet Street it was pretty lawless.” He complained that every person already examined by the committee, with the exception of Dacre, had an “anti-tabloid agenda”.

Wade told the MPs it was “a blatant lie” that press standards had fallen. “The PCC has changed the culture in every news room in the land,” she said. “The majority of people who go before the PCC are ordinary people who have had a first-class service from PCC director Guy Black and his team.

“The fact that it is fast, free, easy and efficient makes it the perfect vehicle for ordinary people.”

Rusbridger and Morgan disagreed over whether a privacy law was being developed by court judgments. Morgan claimed” “We are not going to face a privacy law in that way.” But Rusbridger argued: “There is no settled law on privacy at the moment. I think it will develop. That is why I think it is a wake-up call to the press to see whether we can stop it happening and the only way is to make it [the PCC] credible.”

Committee member Julie Kirkbride, a former Daily Telegraph journalist, told Rusbridger that his evidence would not make him popular among the “club of editors”.

Rusbridger told her a “lot of editors” shared his views, though, he said, they were not the “most vocal ones”. Editors, he said, were frightened of a privacy law. “We all are. I don’t think that is the route we want to go down.”

By David Rose

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