Smith calls for tougher code of newspaper conduct

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The Independent Online
The newspaper industry should introduce an even tougher code of conduct than that agreed by editors in the wake of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Chris Smith said yesterday. The tighter code could include formal arrangements for newspapers to interview the victims of crime on a "pooled" basis.

He also tentatively floated the idea that victims of press intrusion should be allowed to claim compensation from media organisations.

But Mr Smith reiterated his faith in the principle of self-regulation, saying he saw no case for privacy legislation. He welcomed the voluntary strengthening of the Press Complaints Commission's code of practice following the death of Diana in August.

Reforms include banning publication of pictures obtained illegally, or through persistent pursuit or "stalking", expanding the code's definition of private property, extending the definition of what constitutes a private life, and several other measures.

But Mr Smith, who first aired his views at a meeting of the Islington Victim Support scheme in north London, said he believed that the code needed further revision in some areas.

"I did say that the Code of Practice under the self-regulatory system needed to be strengthened in due course," he said.

"On the Code of Practice, we have already got the proposals that Lord Wakeham [PCC chairman] has brought forward strengthening the code. I made the point, a point I have made to Lord Wakeham, that once that is established, I believe there's a case for further strengthening."

His principal concern, he said, was for the victims of crime. "I'm particularly concerned that the victims of crime are better protected. Victims have become people of public interest through no fault or desire of their own - quite the contrary.

"Reporting them, seeking pictures, seeking interviews, that needs to be done with sensitivity."

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