Calcutt denies Royal link to press curbs

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Indy Politics
SIR DAVID CALCUTT yesterday denied his proposals to toughen press regulation had been prompted by exposes of Royal scandals. He defended the right to privacy of Kelvin MacKenzie, the editor of the Sun.

Defending last month's Review of Press Self-Regulation before the Commons select committee on national heritage, Sir David insisted he had not overlooked the importance of ordinary individuals, in spite of the inclusion of large sections devoted to press treatment of the Royals, Paddy Ashdown and David Mellor.

Sir David was questioned by John Gorst, a Conservative member, who declared his 'great exception' to the intrusion of privacy involved in a Mail on Sunday report of Mr MacKenzie's holiday with a young woman who was 'not his wife'.

Alongside the ensuing laughter, Sir David, who has urged the Press Complaints Commission to entertain more 'third party' complaints, highlighted the possible absurdities. 'Yes - why not?' he replied when Mr Gorst suggested there was a legitimate matter for complaint, even though Mr MacKenzie - who is separated and told the paper 'I practise what I preach' - would not be lodging one.

Sir David, master of Magdalene College Cambridge, said his review was based on the belief of both Government and Opposition that the press was on its final chance - a reference to Mr Mellor's 'drinking in the last chance saloon' warning. But Bryan Davies, Labour MP for Oldham Central and Royton, said the marital relationships of some public figures were 'of significance to the constitution of the nation'.

Reflecting remarks by two Conservatives, Alan Howarth, MP for Stratford-on- Avon, and Paul Channon, Southend West, Mr Davies said: 'It looks all the time as if the bust-up with the press is with other drinkers in the saloon, namely public figures who are mixing it with the press a fair amount themselves.' The committee, investigating media intrusion, has taken evidence in private from Charles Anson, the Queen's press secretary. But its main concern is with ordinary people.

Sir David said he believed in self-regulation, insisting he was 'not the Chairman of the Takeover Panel (he was appointed in 1989) for nothing.' But while the sanction in a voluntary system had traditionally been the threat of a statutory commission, that sanction had now gone.

Sir David said the power of his proposed tribunal to fine newspapers - which likewise applied to television companies, members of Lloyd's and barristers - would be reserved for 'extreme cases'.

On the other hand, the tribunal would provide 'instant' redress for people wishing to invoke, for example, the new civil law of privacy now being considered by the Government but who could not afford to go to the ordinary courts.

Joe Ashton, Labour MP for Bassetlaw, singled out for criticism a Daily Mirror report on the death of Lady Eva Green, wife of Sir Allan Green, the former Director of Public Prosecutions.

Sir David replied 'Why not?' when pressed over whether Sir Allan's son or daughter should be compensated if they complained over intrusion into their grief.

(Photograph omitted)