Industry to unveil draft contacts for new press watchdog

A draft contract binding publishers to a tougher form of self-regulation will be presented to Press Complaints Commission chairman Lord Hunt this week.

The industry has pulled together an “implementation group” of around 60 representatives from across the newspaper and magazine sectors, tasked with drawing up plans for a new-look regulator that is “Leveson compliant” but, crucially, rejects the notion of statutory underpinning.

Hunt, who referred to the new system as the “Leveson model”, told a media briefing last week that he was committed to producing what Lord Justice Leveson referred to as the “ideal outcome” when his report was published last month.

On page 1,769 the judge wrote: "It is worth repeating that the ideal outcome is a satisfactory independent regulatory body, established by the industry, that is able to secure the voluntary support and membership of the entire industry and thus able to command the support of the public.”

 The implementation group is due to show Lord Hunt its draft contact at a meeting in London on Thursday morning. To “maintain the momentum” of the process a further meeting has been scheduled for 10 January.

“The industry wants to endorse Leveson,” said Hunt. “There is a window of opportunity in which to do that.

“I believe newspapers and magazines in print and online now accept that there is no third way. I want to see a Leveson compliant model.”

Hunt, who is acting as the point of contact between the industry and Government, is currently overseeing the closure of the PCC and its transfer to a new body “as soon as possible”, working alongside PCC members Peter Wright, the former editor of the Mail on Sunday editor, and ex-BBC chairman Lord Michael Grade.

He also announced that he was being advised in his deliberations by a three-strong group of independent advisers: Ex-Times editor and Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins, former culture secretary Lord Chris Smith, and the former president of the supreme court Lord Nicholas Phillips.

They will advise Hunt on the creation of a new independent appointments process for the new watchdog, and the peer has scheduled a meeting with the commissioner for public appointments Sir David Normington tomorrow.

Commenting on the new contracts, Hunt said that “so far no one has told me that they won’t sign” – not even  Private Eye.

“I even thought, erroneously, that Private Eye would not sign,” said Hunt. “But Ian Hislop rang me up earlier this week to say that they were watching with interest. He didn’t say he wouldn’t [sign].”

Hunt also said he had “never been averse to statutory regulation”, telling journalists that he had drawn up a list of all 27 UK statutes which refer to the press.

“When people say they don’t want statutory underpinning, they ignore the fact that there are already all these statutes,” he said, adding: “As Nicholas Philips reminded me this morning, to have a contract underpinning this new regulator means it is underpinned in law.

“Because civil law is law, whether it is by statute or by case law.”

Hunt’s briefing came on the morning that all the trade bodies representing UK newspaper publishers wrote to Culture Secretary Maria Miller promising to establish a new system of press regulation in accordance with the “Leveson principles”.

It followed a meeting at the beginning of the month at which all the national newspaper editors agreed they could accept all the recommendations from Lord Leveson bar those involving statutory underpinning.

Separately, the Editors' of Code of Practice Committee, chaired by Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre, announced a public consultation as part of a new review that will also see  the code’s definition of the public interest urgently revised last Friday.

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