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The Independent calls for 'contract' system for press regulation

Letter to Lord Justice Leveson from four national newspapers suggests new tougher system for self-regulation

Four of Britain’s leading newspapers have made a late submission to Lord Justice Leveson in support of a tough system of self-regulation of the press.

The call by The Independent, The Guardian, The Financial Times and the London Evening Standard comes amid growing fears that Lord Justice Leveson’s report on media standards, which is due to be published on Thursday, will recommend a statutory element in the regulation of newspapers.

In their submission to the judge, the four titles have attempted to head off the involvement of Parliament by calling for a contract-based regulatory system whereby newspapers, magazines and internet news providers are bound by rolling five-year contracts. “It will have serious sanctions – including the power to fine – and powers to investigate wrongdoing and call editors to account,” they say.

Lord Justice Leveson had previously asked questions as to whether the national press was united in its views on the best future model of press regulation. Certain titles, such as the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph, have been outspoken in rejecting the idea of any statutory element to the process as being a threat to 300 years of press freedom.

In a covering letter to the judge, the four papers emphasised that they too are anxious that the state has no role in regulation.  “We can now confirm that all of us endorse a contract model as opposed to the use of statute to compel participation which we see as a form of licensing.”

The submission states: “We will oppose, as a matter of fundamental principle, any system of regulation imposed on our publications by politicians through an Act of Parliament. Such an Act would inevitably constrain our journalists in their first duty, which is to hold politicians and those in power to account, and restrict the freedom of expression that is the inalienable human right of every citizen. The state would have to fine or close down any publication, from national newspaper to internet blogger, that refused to comply. It would be licensing by another name.”

The papers called for improvement to defamation laws to allow the public “cheap and speedy resolution” of cases. They also emphasised that the proposed contract model of regulation would be independent – “both of the newspaper and magazine industry and of politicians” – and would involve no cost to the taxpayer.