Brooke renews warnings over press reforms: Ministers want to see how newspapers react to pressure for change - Calcutt proposals still on the table

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Indy Politics
PETER BROOKE, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, yesterday again urged the press to put forward more reform proposals and warned that Sir David Calcutt's suggestion for a high- powered statutory tribunal remained 'on the table'.

While personally reluctant to go down the statutory regulation route, Mr Brooke invoked the weapon of uncertainty yesterday, telling the Newspaper Press Fund annual lunch: 'Much depends on what steps the press take in the light of current public and parliamentary concern.

'It has been a little disappointing that so many parts of the press seem to have closed their minds to any reform which might establish a reasonable and transparent balance between the conflicting freedoms of the press and the individual,' he said.

Mr Brooke is awaiting the Commons National Heritage Select Committee's report on media intrusion and Committee Stage debate on the Freedom and Responsibility of the Press Bill sponsored by the Labour MP, Clive Soley.

But in endorsing Sir David Calcutt's conclusion that the Press Complaints Commission, the industry's own self-regulatory body, is ineffective, the Government and Mr Brooke have indicated that the press has failed its 'last chance'. That leaves Mr Brooke little room for manoeuvre.

One suggestion circulating in Whitehall reflects an idea mooted in Mr Soley's Bill for an independent regulatory body with power to provide quick remedies for complainants, but with an additional power to impose modest fines up to pounds 5,000 on recalcitrant newspapers. While touching on that kind of solution yesterday, Mr Brooke will not begin formulating conclusions until after Easter.

In a renewed plea to the press to modify its behaviour, he emphasised that the Government would 'certainly want to see how the press reacts to the increasing pressure for reform'.

Mr Brooke avoided specifying industry-dominated reforms that could persuade the Government to officially drop Sir David's proposal for a tribunal with substantial fining and preview powers and Government plans to consider introducing a new civil law of infringement of privacy.

Of Sir David's proposals for new criminal offences dealing with physical intrusion and surveillance, Mr Brooke said that, subject to further consideration, legislation would go ahead.