The Press Complaints Commission is to close itself down in a fast-tracked programme that will kill off the name of the PCC, abandon its current structures and governance, and establish a new regulatory body that will be in place well before Lord Justice Leveson delivers his report on the press at the end of this year.
The accelerated close down was formally discussed at a full meeting of the commission chaired by Lord Hunt in London today.
Details of the formal close-down date and the potential names of the new body are expected to be revealed in six weeks when the full minutes of today’s meeting are approved and published shortly afterwards.
Earlier this week Lord Hunt is understood to have told some of his close Westminster colleagues of the imminent demise of the PCC.
Lord Hunt discussed the urgent need to have a new authority in place and functioning well ahead of the first draft and any early recommendations from Lord Justice Leveson.
“Simply stealing a march on anything Leveson might say” was how one MP described the “goodbye” to the PCC.
Set up by David Cameron last July in the wake of new revelations about phone hacking at the now-closed News of the World, the Leveson Inquiry has been highly critical of the role and limited power of the PCC.
Lord Justice Leveson has repeatedly questioned the assertion that the PCC held any self-regulatory function.
During the testimony and questioning of the PCC’s former director, Tim Toulmin in February this year, Sir Brian stated that it was an error to call the PCC a “self-regulating” body when it was not a regulator at all.
The decision to close down quickly and attempt to re-invent itself in advance of Downing Street acting on any of the inquiry’s recommendations, is said to have been greatly influenced by the recent testimonies of former PCC officials at Lord Justice Leveson’s review of press practices and ethics.
Baroness Buscombe, who quit her role as chairman last year in the wake of severe criticism on how the commission had reacted to the accelerating hacking scandal, said that News International had misled the PCC and that what the police had told her had been taken “on trust”.
She also claimed the PCC could not investigate what it potentially regarded as a criminal act.
When she took on the chairman’s role in 2009 she said she recognised the need for a changed remit, stronger sanctions and better funding. However she said the industry itself had resisted making any change.
Mr Toulmin also told the inquiry that PCC’s reaction to the hacking scandal had been “restrictive and timorous”.
Last month the commission held limited discussions on the delivery of what Lord Hunt called a “regulator with teeth”. The commission privately identified that what was needed was a self-regulatory structure that would receive widespread approval.
In a brief television interview, Lord Hunt said the PCC was now “on the front foot and listening to all sides.”
All members of the commission did not attend the meeting at the PCC’s London headquarters in Holborn today. Details of who attended will be revealed when the minutes are published next month.