Quiet sociologist agrees to take over from Wakeham

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The Independent Online

Professor Robert Pinker, 71, a founding member of the PCC, will chair the commission in Lord Wakeham's absence.

The emeritus professor at the London School of Economics is a respected sociologist who has written papers on the welfare state and on hospitals.

He has served the PCC for seven years in the key position of privacy commissioner. He helped steer through privacy reforms after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, and the highlighting of newspaper abuses.

He dealt with complaints from her brother, Earl Spencer, who called for a privacy law and an end to the "torture" of privacy invasion.

Professor Pinker was on the shortlist in 1994 when Lord Wakeham was eventually appointed. Some PCC sources said, at the time, it was only his lack of prominence that kept Professor Pinker from the chair. Judging from the confidential criteria drawn up by the PCC's funding body Pressbof (Press Standards Board of Finance Limited) then, Professor Pinker will need to be a man of many qualities.

They wanted a chairman "not connected with newspaper and magazine publishing'', "sympathetic to self-regulation'' and of "unsullied ethical and moral reputation'', Pressbof also asked for someone with access to both politicians and civil servants. The chairman also had to be "articulate and literate'' and "cool and collected'', with "experience of dealing with media'' and a "good television presence''.

Professor Pinker seems a quieter type. He lists reading, writing and unskilled gardening as his recreational interests in Who's Who.

The announcement of Professor Pinker's new role was made by Pressbof, whose chairman Sir Harry Roche also paid tribute to Lord Wakeham.

Sir Harry said in a statement: "Whilst understanding the circumstances that have caused John Wakeham to announce today that he is to stand aside from the chairmanship of the Press Complaints Commission while matters relating to Enron are resolved, the Pressbof Board receives the announcement with great regret.

"The manner and timing of the announcement underlines his sense of integrity and honour and it is precisely those qualities – along with the shrewdest of political minds, and an unswerving commitment to self-regulation – that has made him such an outstanding chairman of the Press Complaints Commission for the last seven years."

He added: "I am delighted that Professor Robert Pinker, one of the founding lay members of the commission and for the last seven years its accomplished privacy commissioner, has agreed to become acting chairman.

"Bob Pinker is a great champion of self-regulation and a free press who has unrivalled experience of the many and varied issues that face the commission every day.

"I know that he will serve the PCC, and most important of all the public, well during his time as the commission's independent acting chairman."