Editors fight to avoid statutory regulation: Tabloids leave voluntary control body as PR adviser says Princess will not be 'too upset' and advertisers carry on regardless

THE RESIGNATION of the Mirror Group from the Press Complaints Commission yesterday left other editors and publishers struggling to preserve a system of voluntary regulation without the second highest-selling daily newspaper.

Unless the commission, which meets tomorrow, can persuade the group to change its mind and accept their censure, they are left with a much weakened argument against renewed government plans to legislate against invasions of privacy.

The Daily Mirror's publication yesterday of secretly taken pictures of the Princess of Wales exercising at a private gym, the day after the Sunday Mirror had been criticised for using similar photographs, has been condemned by the industry.

Last night David Banks, editor of the Daily Mirror, pre-empted tomorrow's meeting by announcing that he was withdrawing his newspaper from the commission. The Mirror Group is thought to have been incensed by the advice from Lord McGregor, chairman of the commission, that readers and advertisers should shun the newspaper.

The group issued a statement saying: 'The Press Complaints Commission has lost all credibility under Lord McGregor's chairman ship. Once again he has tried and convicted newspapers, and is attempting to penalise our titles by his immoderate statements, without any hearing or consideration of evidence.' The Sunday Mirror and People have also been withdrawn.

Yesterday senior newspaper figures including Sir Frank Rogers, the Newspaper Publishers Association chairman, were putting pressure on David Montgomery, chief executive of MGN, to stop the publication of more pictures. This was before the princess's lawyers went to court and won an injunction preventing further publication.

The commission's code, which the newspaper industry has supported, says intrusions into an individual's private life can be justified only when in the public interest.

Lord McGregor was clearly wounded by the way the Daily Mirror made plain its contempt, dubbing him 'the arch windbag'.

Peter Preston, the Guardian editor and a PCC commissioner, said the way the Daily Mirror took up the pictures from the Sunday Mirror made it impossible to dismiss as a tacky mistake by one editor.

Until this week it had seemed that ministers, facing the difficulties of bringing in criminal laws to outlaw bugging, trespass and snatched photographs on private property, and a more general tort of privacy, were backtracking.

In February they dismissed Sir David Calcutt's gloomy view - in a report published in January - that self-regulation was ineffective and rejected his central recommendation for a powerful press tribunal, able to impose fines. His report was coloured by the publication, by the Daily Mirror, of pictures showing the Duchess of York topless.

The Government also delayed a White Paper on privacy until next January, saying that there had to be time for representations over the Lord Chancellor's privacy consultation paper published in July. Lord MacKay had already publicly opposed creating a press tribunal.

Sir David Calcutt said last night the Mirror's reaction to Lord McGregor had proved he had been right to recommend statutory controls. 'If the PCC is now to be treated in this way by an important significant journal, then you have a real problem as I see it for self-regulation,' he told The World Tonight, on BBC Radio 4.

Sir David said his committee - which reviewed the first 18 months of the PCC at the Government's request - had reached the conclusion that it was not working effectively.

Leading article, page 17

(Photograph omitted)

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