Peers plot showdown if editors reject reform

Peers and MPs

plan to force a showdown with Media Secretary Tessa Jowell if editors reject her challenge to reform the Press Complaints Commission.

Jowell has served notice she is looking to editors to respond to their criticism and will present her own reforms when she meets new PCC chairman Sir Christopher Meyer next week.

These include allowing dissatisfied complainants to appeal against PCC decisions, giving the commission a more proactive role and broadening the lay membership.

But, while outlining her ideas to the Commons media select committee, Jowell said that if editors did not act, she would not introduce legislation.

“The Government has no plans to legislate in the way that will alter the basis that press self-regulation currently operates,” she said.

However, Press Gazette has learned that peers are already plotting to bring forward an amendment to the communications bill in anticipation the media committee will recommend new legislative safeguards.

Lord McNally, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, has already had discussions with committee chairman Gerald Kaufman about the timing of the committee’s report, which MPs are expected to complete by the end of May.

That would allow peers to present the all-party committee’s recommendation in an amendment when the report stage of the bill is reached. MPs are expected to respond to evidence from Independent editor Simon Kelner and Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger that there is a case for an appeal body to review PCC decisions. Rusbridger favours an ombudsman, Kelner a body under new super-regulator Ofcom.

“We will argue for Ofcom to have some role,” Lord McNally told Press Gazette. But he said Parliament’s response would depend on how Meyer interpreted his new role.

Giving evidence, Jowell said she would meet Meyer “to discuss with him his plans for reform” but she made clear she favours the press continuing to regulate itself.

“The fundamental objection that many people have to the idea of an ombudsman overseeing press complaints is that this would mean some form of state control over the press,” she said. “We believe that it is quite simply not acceptable to the people of this country that there be any government intervention in our free press.”

By David Rose

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