Public should have the right to appeal against press complaints body, say MPs

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The Independent Online

An independent ombudsman should be appointed to adjudicate in disputes between newspapers and members of the public, an influential committee of MPs is expected to recommend today.

In its long-awaited report, the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee is also likely to propose that the Press Complaints Commission be forced to submit itself to an annual audit by Parliament.

The self-regulatory body has been criticised as toothless, a charge highlighted by the growing use of the courts by celebrities objecting to intrusion. Although the PCC's backers stress it is free to use and fast to act, it has been dogged by the claim that it is compromised by having editors on its board.

The idea of an ombudsman acting as a "backstop" for people who want to appeal against a PCC ruling was advocated by Simon Kelner, the Editor-in-Chief of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday, in his evidence to the MPs.

Where newspapers and readers disagree on points of fact, rather than interpretation, the ombudsman is expected to intervene. But proposals to put the press body under the remit of Ofcom, the new super-media regulator, are understood to have been rejected by the committee. Some MPs wanted newspapers to face hefty fines, although the committee was divided on exactly how that would work.

The report will say the PCC should be more proactive and investigate issues of public concern about press coverage, even if no complaint has been made against a particular report. The committee intends to publish a "rogues' gallery" of the violators of the PCC's code, listing the worst-offending editors and publications.

Some MPs on the committee were also keen on a privacy law to curb the excesses of media intrusion, although it is unclear whether this will be a recommendation. The committee will criticise the sanctions available to the PCC, which include forcing a newspaper to carry an apology or publish an adjudication against it.

The report is expected to be particularly critical of Rebekah Wade, the editor of The Sun, for her admission in evidence that reporters paid police for information during her editorship of the News of the World.

The PCC tried to get its retaliation in first yesterday, with its chairman, Sir Christopher Meyer, hinting he would make a formal complaint about the actions of the select committee.

He said he would wait until its report was published before deciding whether to refer the matter to the parliamentary ombudsman. "Points arose ... which gave me cause for concern. We do have legal advice [which] suggests that could be something that we should do."

It is understood the PCC believes the MPs held unfair meetings in private and had little grasp of how self-regulation worked. Sir Christopher said on Sky News yesterday that a privacy law would help only the rich.