Wakeham quits press post, but keeps salary

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The Independent Online

Lord Wakeham, who stood down as chairman of the Press Complaints Commission to answer questions about his involvement in the collapsed energy firm Enron, will not return to the post, it was announced last night.

But the Tory peer will continue to draw his £156,000 salary until 1 September when he formally departs.

Lord Wakeham, 69, bowed to the inevitable and asked to be released from his contract, eight months before it was due to expire.

His successor will be announced on 1 September. Sue MacGregor, the recently retired presenter of BBC Radio 4's Today programme, has been tipped for the job. However, it is thought more likely that a successor will come from the world of politics after the press discovered the benefits of having a senior figure able to lobby the Government effectively. Most newspapers have been keen to preserve self-regulation and fend off the risk of legislation.

Elizabeth Filkin, the former Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards is one name being mentioned. Senior political figures such as Lord Ashdown, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, could also come into the reckoning.

Professor Robert Pinker, who took over the reins after Lord Wakeham stepped aside "as a matter of honour" on 31 January, will continue as acting chairman but is thought unlikely to apply to make his position permanent.

The announcement about Lord Wakeham came from the Press Standards Board of Finance, PressBof, the industry body that funds the Press Complaints Commission (PCC). It follows increasing dissent in the media over Lord Wakeham's position.

Many were concerned that the multi-billion dollar bankruptcy of Enron was likely to take up the peer's time for years, making his return, in effect, impossible. As an £80,000-a-year non-executive director of Enron, he sat on a number of Enron's committees designed to identify and prevent any financial wrongdoing. It has also been alleged that he offered the company media advice at a time when he was already chairman of the PCC.

But even before the Enron crisis broke, some critics had been unhappy about the way he acted as a behind-the-scenes "fixer", notably on behalf of the tabloids and the royal family. It was the tabloids that were particularly effusive in their praise when Lord Wakeham announced his decision to stand down, on full salary. The Sun described him as a "genuinely decent man" and the Daily Mail marked his "considerable achievements".

But among the broadsheet press, opinion was more divided with both The Independent and The Daily Telegraph expressing concern that the close relationship between the PCC and tabloid editors was threatening effective self-regulation.

Yesterday, a spokesman for PressBof said it had agreed to release Lord Wakeham from his contract "with regret" and added: "The board wishes to record its appreciation of his outstanding contribution to self-regulation of the press over the past seven years."