Any statutory framework that aimed to legally regulate Britain’s press would be “continually challenged” in the courts by the newspaper industry, the Leveson Inquiry heard today.
The regime of serial legal action against parliamentary involvement in press freedom was forecast by Lord Black, the chairman of the Press Board of Finance, the industry body that currently funds the Press Complaints Commission.
The PCC chairman’s warning of statutory rules leading to the press becoming “stuck in parliamentary aspic” were made almost a year to the day since Rupert Murdoch closed the News of the World.
An examination of the PCC’s failure to fully understand and deal with the fallout from the phone hacking scandal, is a key part of Lord Justice Leveson’s remit.
Lord Black today sought to defend his organisation’s still-evolving plans to head off the Leveson Inquiry’s likely recommendation that some form of statutory under-pinning should be introduced as part of the post-hacking reform of Britain’s press.
The Conservative peer, a former communications director for the Tories under Michael Howard, claimed most publishers held a “fundamental philosophical objection” to even indirect involvement by parliament.
He singled out the Independent, the Guardian and the Financial Times as titles that had stated recently to being open to the idea of a statutory foundation for new regulation.
The PCC’s plans to reinvent itself would essentially preserve the idea of self-regulation. A new contract-based system would be introduced, with a new regulatory body being given powers to launch investigations and levy fines of up to £1m. Lord Black said the new plans would deliver a “regulator with muscular powers of enforcement.”
However his description of the post-PCC regime as “independent self-regulation” was attacked as oxymoronic by both Lord Justice Leveson and the inquiry’s leading counsel, Robert Jay QC.
Today was the start of the fourth module of the inquiry, which will examine the future of press policy and regulation.
It was announced that Sue Akers, the deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police who is leading the specialist investigation into phone hacking and police corruption, will return to the inquiry to provide an update of new evidence.
The final module is expected to be complete before the end of the month.