Newspaper editors to be questioned over Press Bill

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Indy Politics
AN UNPRECEDENTED line-up of national newspaper editors and other senior figures from the industry will submit next week to questioning by the cross-party committee of MPs collecting information for the Freedom and Responsibility of the Press Bill.

The move to co-operate with the committee which, unlike a Commons select committee, cannot compel witnesses to attend, coincides with a growing conviction among MPs of all parties that press self-regulation has failed.

The Tory-dominated committee, set up by Clive Soley, the Labour MP sponsoring the Private Member's Bill, has already taken evidence from victims of misreporting in the run-up to the Second Reading of the Bill, which proposes a statutory right for readers to insist on corrections of inaccuracies.

The editors who have agreed to be questioned next Tuesday in the last of a series of three hearings are Donald Trelford, of the Observer; Peter Preston, the Guardian; Martin Dunn, Today; and Malcolm Rutherford, assistant editor of the Financial Times. A representative from the News of the World has also agreed to give evidence.

The editors will be accompanied by a team from the Press Complaints Commission, the industry's self-regulatory body - possibly Lord McGregor of Durris, its chairman, plus a national or regional newspaper editor and a lay member. The Newspaper Society, representing national papers, the Guild of British Newspaper Editors, representing the regional press, the National Union of Journalists and the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, which backs the Bill, will also appear.

The Bill's Second Reading, which will determine whether it has any chance of becoming law, is at the end of January, coinciding with the expected publication of Sir David Calcutt's second report on press regulation.

Mr Soley said yesterday that support for his Bill was hardening. But some MPs believe it is too modest.

A number of Tories, including some on Mr Soley's committee, back the introduction of a privacy law, subject to a 'public interest' defence, demands that were reinforced yesterday by the Prime Minister's appeal for the privacy of the Prince and Princess of Wales to be respected.

One member of Mr Soley's committee said: 'Kelvin McKenzie (editor of the Sun) should realise that there is hardly an MP here who does not object to the use of bugging and telephoto lenses and other invasions of privacy that are not in the public interest and think the press has gone too far.'

Many MPs are also angry over the non-implementation of one of Sir David's recommendations in his first report, of June 1990, that new criminal offences should be introduced to outlaw physical intrusion into people's lives, such as placing bugging devices and photographing or taping individuals on private property.

Mr Soley's Bill proposes a lay- dominated, publicly-funded Independent Press Authority with power to adjudicate over corrections and, if need be, take cases to the courts.