Paul Dacre outlines plans for new press regulator

Independent experts from the police, judiciary and civil service could be called on to advise on press standards under a new system suggested by the industry.

A new standards and compliance panel set up to help regulate the media might draw upon a committee of such figures from public life for its special investigations, Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre has said.

The suggestion was among a number of new submissions put forward to the Leveson Inquiry into press standards.

Serving editors – possibly five in total – might sit alongside seven independent members on a new complaints committee, but would "clearly be in the minority" on the committee, Dacre stressed.

There have previously been calls for the new system to have enough independence to guarantee that editors are not "marking their own homework".

The planned overhaul of press regulation comes after the phone-hacking scandal at the now-defunct News of the World led many to question the efficacy of the existing Press Complaints Commission (PCC), which is currently in a transitional phase, moving towards the establishment of a new regulatory body.

It was not compulsory for editors or newspaper owners to sign up to the PCC, and Northern & Shell boss Richard Desmond withdrew his titles – including the Daily Express and Daily Star – from it.

Dacre said: "The greatest weakness in my view of the PCC was that it couldn't lock publishers into self-regulation."

But having previously suggested that Parliament could help with this issue, he said he had now changed his views, fearing that "any Parliamentary involvement would be the 'thin end of the wedge' which could result in fuller statutory control of the press".

Alternative suggestions for ensuring that all publications comply with a media code of practice included issuing press cards only to journalists who worked for publishers which subscribed to the new regulatory body – a proposal put forward by Dacre when he gave evidence to the Inquiry.

Another suggestion was denying access to the Press Association news wire to those who refuse to sign up to the code.

Dacre argued this would be a "devastating blow" to anyone who did not comply, as the wire service was the "bedrock of any news operation".

A kite mark of sorts could also be included in publications to let the public know who was signed up to self-regulation and who was not, he said.

This could be used to persuade advertisers – and in particular government and public sector bodies – not to advertise in non-compliant newspapers, Dacre said.

Elsewhere in his submission he remarked on the "Sisyphean nature" of defining what was in the public interest but argued: "The simple definition, of exposure of criminality, is far too narrow.

"It must clearly also cover wrongdoing, hypocrisy and incompetence in cases where no criminal law has been broken, as well as allow disclosure of information that helps the public understand and make decisions on any matter that affects them."

The recent series of super-injunctions granted to footballers and celebrities "misjudged the public mood", he argued.

But not all stories should have to be in the public interest, he added.

Meanwhile, Lord Black of Brentwood, chairman of the Press Standards Board of Finance, which finances the PCC, put in a separate submission advancing the proposals around press cards, use of copy from the Press Association, the national news agency, a kite mark and getting advertisers to help support the new system.

He said in a "draft proposal for the establishment of a new regulator with powers of investigation and sanction that will work for the public and for the upholding of good journalism," that the new body should have enforceable powers to investigate where it believes there has been a "serious or systemic breakdown in ethical standards".

Where there was such a failure, it should have powers of financial sanction, he said.

But he argued that self-regulation must remain the order of the day, describing it as "vital for the maintenance of press freedom and therefore for the protection of the public interest".

The estimated annual cost for the new regulator could be in the region of GBP2.25 million, he said.

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