Press plans to give readers a new voice in hope of heading off Leveson proposals

Public invited to make submissions defining what is in its interest as part of new media code
  • @iburrell

On a day when it tried to show it was capable of putting its own house in order, the newspaper industry invited the public to take part in an unprecedented review of the way papers are written and promised to reconsider its own definition of the public interest in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry.

The powerful Editors’ Code of Practice Committee, which is headed by Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, announced a review of the code which is followed by journalists. Newspapers and magazines “will be encouraged to urge their own readers to contribute”. The committee also announced plans to take five lay individuals into its ranks, which currently consist of 13 editors.

In a parallel announcement intended to show that the press was loosening its grip on the oversight of its industry, Lord Smith of Finsbury, the former Labour Culture Secretary, the former editor of The Times Simon Jenkins and Lord Phillips, the former president of the Supreme Court, were named as “independent advisers” who will assist Lord Hunt, the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), in setting up a new regulator.

The press is under intense pressure to accept Lord Justice Leveson’s recent recommendations for reform and yesterday saw a flurry of activity designed to show willingness to implement the proposals. The industry hopes its own road map for new regulation – which will emerge next week in the form of draft contracts for publishers – will enable David Cameron to fulfil his desire to implement Leveson without law.  

The press proposals were not well-received by the reform group Hacked Off which continued to call for a law that sets out standards of effectiveness for a new regulator. Professor Brian Cathcart, director of Hacked Off, said: “Nobody will trust anything set up by the press itself unless somebody with real clout is checking that this is not just another toothless industry poodle like the Press Complaints Commission. Newspaper proprietors can boast all they like about how they are complying with Leveson, but we can’t just take their word for it.”

Lord Hunt revealed yesterday that an “implementation group” of 60 representatives of the press will meet on Thursday when he expects editors and publishers to consider draft contracts being drawn up by lawyers on behalf of the newspaper industry.

On Tuesday a cross-party meeting will be convened by Culture Secretary Maria Miller at the House of Commons to consider various options for regulating the press without statute, including the use of a Royal Charter. The meeting will also discuss a Bill on press regulation, which is thought to show the complications of getting such legislation through Parliament.

Within the press industry, the reviews of the journalist’s code and of the redefinition of the public interest are regarded as “significant” concessions.

The public have until 17 February to make submissions. The three pillars to the public interest definition in the current code are “exposing crime or serious impropriety”, “protecting public health and safety” and “preventing the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation”.