By David Rose
New media minister Lord McIntosh has warned Press Complaints Commission chairman Sir Christopher Meyer to improve standards or face renewed calls for state regulation of the press.
The warning came as the Government resisted a call to empower Ofcom to fine newspapers up to £500,000 for breaking the Editors’ Code of Practice.
But while the press will continue to regulate itself, Meyer was told he must come up with improvements when he faces the all-party Commons Media Select Committee in a year’s time.
“The Press Complaints Commission is under a constant obligation to itself and the people of this country to improve the code and its enforcement,” the minister told the House of Lords.
Lord McIntosh backed Lord (David) Lipsey, a former Sunday Times journalist, who told peers that if “Chris Meyer’s initial work does not turn into something more concrete that the newspapers take on board” then moves to bring the press under Ofcom’s control would eventually be successful. “The press has its fate in its own hands,” he said.
“I agree very much with what Lord Lipsey said,” Lord McIntosh commented. The decision by editors to ban witness payments, he said, showed there was “evidence that – perhaps for only a short time – the situation may be improving”.
But the minister added: “There is still a long way to go in achieving the standards in print media that many wish to see.”
Lord McNally, Liberal Democrat media spokesman, had moved an amendment to the communications bill giving Ofcom powers of intervention over the PCC.
He withdrew the amendment after Lord McIntosh’s speech, saying he was “very pleased” with it. Ministers should tell “the press to clean up its act”, Lord McNally said.
But former PCC chairman Lord Wakeham defended self-regulation of the press.
“I believe that for the past 10 years standards have improved,” he said. “The PCC does its job by common-sense resolution of disputes. Not everyone is happy with the outcome of such resolutions, but to create a body to which the PCC is accredited is to create an appellate body to which disgruntled complainants will run with their grievances.
“At one fell swoop the system becomes legal and unwieldy.”
Lord Wakeham warned that publishers would withdraw support from the PCC if it was made accountable to Ofcom.