Former Conservative Cabinet Minister Lord Hunt has been named as the next chairman of the Press Complaints Commission.
Current PCC chair Peta Buscombe had been expected to complete her three-year-term as head of the press watchdog and step down in the New Year. But it was announced today that Lord Hunt will take up his new role as of Monday.
The PCC is currently under huge scrutiny with the whole system of press self regulation under review as a result of the phone-hacking scandal. The regulator is expected to be radically reformed, and may even be abolished and replaced with a new body, once the Leveson Inquiry has finished its deliberations.
The appointment was announced today by the Press Standards Board of Finance, the journalism industry body which collects the levies which fund the PCC.
Lord Hunt is currently chairman of the Financial Services Division at the law firm Beachcroft, and is a former MP for Wirral and, later, Wirral West.
He said: "I am delighted I shall be leading the crucially important process of wholesale regeneration and renewal of the system of independent self-regulation of the press. My job is to ensure we create in due course an effective, genuinely independent standards body, which enjoys the overwhelming respect and support of the media, our political leaders and the general public.
"Throughout my political life I have fought for freedom of expression; and a free press is the distinctive and indispensable hallmark of any truly free, civilised society. I have no desire to live in a country where the legitimate, lawful investigative activities of the press are fettered at the whim of politicians. That would not be freedom at all.
"Those who work for newspapers or their digital off-shoots are, however, rightly bound by the law of the land, just like everyone else. They should also abide by recognised standards of professionalism, consideration and common decency.
"The PCC already plays an invaluable role, delivering fast, free and fair treatment of complaints from members of the public, as and when a newspaper has overstepped the line. There is a real appetite for change, however, and it is my intention to drive forward the creation of a reinvigorated and respected standards body, funded by the industry but operationally independent from both the industry and the state."
Hunt has been a partner at Beachcroft for more than forty years, specialising in regulatory and administrative law.
Between 1976 and 1997 he was MP for Wirral and later Wirral West. He served in various government roles between 1979 and 1995 including those of Minister for Coal, Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities, Secretary of State for Wales, Secretary of State for Employment and Minister for Public Service and Science, based in the Cabinet Office.
He stepped down from government in 1995 to become senior partner at Beachcroft. In 1997 David he entered the House of Lords as Lord Hunt of Wirral.
Commenting on the appointment, chairman of PressBoF Lord Black said: "On behalf of my colleagues in the national and regional newspaper and magazine industry, I am delighted that Lord Hunt has accepted our invitation to become Chairman of the PCC. His appointment follows a rigorous selection process, including for the first time an independent assessment, which identified an extremely strong field of candidates.
"David Hunt's wide-ranging experience in politics, in the law and in regulation and above all his unshakeable commitment to the principles of press freedom and self-regulation make him the ideal person to lead the process of renewal and regeneration which is now essential. His commitment to making those changes is clear, and he will have the full support of the industry as he sets about this urgent task. "