Britain’s longest-serving national newspaper editor has outlined radical plans to create a register of journalists under a new press regulator that would also have the power to strike them off.
In evidence to the Leveson Inquiry this afternoon, Daily Mail editor Dacre said the register would be an effective means of ensuring all newspapers and magazines sign up to self-regulation, tackling what he dubbed the ‘Desmond factor”.
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At present, he said, there are 17 organisations in the UK that hand out press cards to journalists including the NUJ, the Newspaper Society and the Newspaper Publishers Association.
Dacre said he would like to build on the existing ‘haphazard’press card system by creating a single body to register journalists, transforming the cards into an ‘essential kite mark for ethical, proper journalism”.
‘The key would be to make the cards available only to members of print newsgathering organisations or magazines who have signed up the new body and its code,’he said.
‘The public at large would know journalists carrying such cards are bone fide operators committed to a set of standards and a body to who complaints can be made
‘Reporters and photographers would use the cards as proof that they’re responsible journalists.”
To make the system work, argued Dacre, there would need to be a ‘universal agreement’that information and briefings from Government departments, local authorities, the police and scientific bodies ‘would only be given to accredited journalists”.
He suggested that only accredited journalists should be able to go to post-match press conferences at football games.
It would be in organisations’ interests to sign up to this system or they would lose the ability to complain to the regulator, said Dacre.
‘It is my considered view that no publisher could survive if its reporters and writers were barred from such vital areas of journalistic interest,’he continued.
It would be part of a ‘civil contract’that a press ombudsman figure ‘would have the right to recommend that accredited journalists guilty of gross malfeasance have their press cards cancelled, as the GMC [General Medical Council] strikes off doctors”, Dacre said.
Dacre’s proposals echo similar comments made by Independent editor Chris Blackhurst in an interview with Press Gazette last year.
Blackhurst said he wanted the press regulator to ‘move more towards a General Medical Council or Law Society type structure where it seen as the regulatory and disciplinary authority for the industry”.
Dacre said it was difficult to compel Richard Desmond’s titles – which include the Express and Star titles and OK! magazine – to sign up to a body like the PCC because they didn’t do the sort of journalism which warranted the need to use the service. He said: “It’s a very bland, slightly sycophantic journalism.”
Dacre also suggested that the problem of paparazzi photographers hounding celebrities could be tackled by forcing the main paparazzi agencies to sign up to the new press regulator, and by encouraging newspapers and magazines not to use non-accredited agencies.
In comments which Dacre emphasised were his own personal view, he suggested that the press should carry out its own investigation into privacy and come up with a definition of the public interest.
Dacre admitted that the PCC does need to be more independent and transparent said that the appointment of the PCC chairman by Pressbof (the industry body which oversees the funding of the PCC) is too “opaque”.
He said: ‘Senior appointments should be made by an independent panel made up of lay and newspaper representatives.”