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Hunt plans to replace PCC with new Press regulator

Newspapers must not dominate regulatory body, new PCC chairman tells Exaro

I started with a blank sheet of paper, but statutory regulation has not been considered

Lord Hunt, chairman, Press Complaints Commission

Plans to scrap the Press Complaints Commission and replace it with a new regulator – more independent of newspapers – are to be unveiled by its chairman.

Lord Hunt, appointed as chairman of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) in October, is confident that his radical proposals – which will send shockwaves around the newspaper and magazine industry – will head off statutory regulation of the Press.

He will present his plan when he gives evidence next year to Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry into media ethics in the UK. He is due to testify in the fourth and final phase of the inquiry, which is expected in the spring.

In an interview with Exaro, Hunt said: “I concluded that the best way forward was to recognise that the existing structure is not a regulator. I am surprised at the extent of agreement that has been reached. Even those who have called the PCC a regulator, now accept that it isn’t.”

He made clear that he is not expecting any newspaper group to opt out. “There is no room for anyone outside the system that I am proposing. Therefore, I have to have consensus and agreement.”

“My overall aim is to get everyone to sign up to this new structure on day one.”

He hopes that Leveson will recommend that the new self-regulatory body be given a chance to regulate the press effectively. The PCC has been under fire for failing to tackle phone hacking by the News of the World.

Hunt also wants to extend the PCC’s remit to cover publications on the internet and the blogosphere.

The PCC chairman spoke to Exaro ahead of a meeting that he called for tomorrow morning (Thursday) of editors of national and regional newspapers – at the London head office of the Telegraph titles – to outline his proposals.

The Leveson inquiry was ordered by David Cameron, prime minister, in July after the closure of the News of the World over phone hacking. Milly Dowler, the murdered schoolgirl, was among those targeted.

However, the difficulty of regulating journalists’ behaviour was underlined by Mark Lewis, the solicitor acting for Milly’s family, when he told Exaro last month that phone hacking to help stand up a story can be justified.

The solicitor, who became the News of the World’s nemesis, wrote a commentary piece for Exaro in which he argued why phone hacking by journalists can be good.

David Hunt was a member of the Conservative government from 1979 to 1995. His cabinet posts included Welsh secretary and employment secretary, and he is a senior partner in DAC Beachcroft, the international commercial law firm. He specialises in regulation, and became a Conservative peer in 1997.

He carried out an independent review in 2009 of regulation of legal services on behalf of the Law Society, which represents solicitors. The legal profession – just like the Press now – had been under threat of statutory regulation.

In 2008, he completed a review of the Financial Ombudsman Service, which deals with complaints about financial businesses.

Hunt believes that the new Press regulator must remain independent of government.

However, many editors are likely to feel uneasy about many of his proposals, but are expected to conclude that there may be no other alternative to statutory regulation.

Hunt said: “I started with a blank sheet of paper, but statutory regulation has not been considered and is not on the table.” He is still fleshing out his plans, but expects to propose a two-tier complaints system with a much more rigorous approach to inaccurate and intrusive stories.

In the first tier, every newspaper and magazine regulated by the PCC would have an agreed procedure under which a complainant can seek redress from the publication. The publisher’s chief executive would have to take responsibility for its complaints system.

Each title would have an independent person to decide on complaints and what it should do to redress the issue. Hunt said that this would be a more independent figure than the ‘readers’ editor’ that some newspapers already have.

For those who remain unsatisfied after going through the first tier of the complaints system, they can take the matter to the new regulator.

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