Desmond withdraws his titles from press complaints regulation

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The Independent Online

The publisher Richard Desmond yesterday delivered a damaging blow to supporters of self-regulation of the press by effectively withdrawing his newspapers and magazines from the Press Complaints Commission.

Titles including the Daily Express, the Daily Star and OK! magazine will no longer be regulated by the PCC, after the media mogul decided to withhold payments to the Press Standards Board of Finance (PressBoF), the body which pays the £2m annual costs of the regulator. PressBoF yesterday described Mr Desmond's decision as "deeply regrettable".

The system of self-regulation is already under considerable pressure. The PCC has faced criticism for its perceived failings in tackling the excesses of tabloid behaviour, most notably in its handling of phone-hacking allegations concerning the News of the World. Just over a year ago, Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian, resigned from the PCC's Code Committee over its approach to the so-called "Hackgate" scandal.

The withdrawal from the PCC's remit of one of Britain's largest newspaper publishers threatens to further undermine its position.

The chairman of PressBoF, Lord Black of Brentwood, said: "This deeply regrettable decision to exclude Northern & Shell from the system was taken only as a last resort, following the publisher's decision not to pay the industry levy which funds the work of the PCC. Payment of this levy is a vital sign not just of a publisher's commitment to the Code of Practice and the ethical standards contained in it, but also of a commitment to the protection of the public, as it is the levy which allows the PCC to deal with complaints it receives free of charge."

Lord Black said that other publishers would make up the shortfall to PCC funding. "The rest of the industry – covering the overwhelming majority of the newspapers and magazines produced in the UK – remains totally committed to effective self-regulation; to the Code of Practice and to the work of the independent PCC under the chairmanship of Baroness Buscombe. The PCC's funding will be unaffected."

Northern & Shell made no comment on the decision. But a source indicated that Mr Desmond's organisation no longer saw value in remaining in the regulatory system. "They feel they can operate the principles of self-regulation themselves and don't feel they need to do that by being a member of the PCC," he said. "They employ lawyers to check the facts on stories and will continue to do that."