The newspaper industry will work over the festive season to stave off new press laws. It will finalise proposals for papers to sign a five-year contract, locking itself into a new independent regulator tasked with enforcing the findings of the Leveson Inquiry.
Lord Hunt, the peer in charge of setting up the new regulatory body, said yesterday there was now a consensus on Fleet Street that a “contract model” obliging titles to adhere to the principles of Leveson, including an new arbitration service and a watchdog with the power to impose £1m fines, was the way forward for the industry.
Under pressure from the Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, to come up with a blueprint “as soon as possible”, editors and publishers are due to meet on 10 January to finalise a “road map” leading to the formation of the new body.
But question marks remain over the commitment being sought from newspapers after it emerged that after the initial five-year period, the contract for the new regulator will be renewed annually, under the current proposals – opening the possibility that titles could pull out of the new arrangement by giving notice after four years.
The contract details will increase scepticism among victims of the phone-hacking scandal that all sections of the press will voluntarily adhere to an independent regulator.
The proposals emerged after a meeting yesterday of nearly 100 newspaper and magazine editors, publishers and executives with Lord Hunt to consider draft contracts and gauge the level of consensus as the industry tries to prove it can put its own house in order.
Lord Hunt, who is chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, said: “There is overwhelming acceptance of the general direction of travel… Everyone accepted the contract model. Everyone accepts the Leveson principles. Also, generally speaking the industry decided to do what Lord Justice Leveson called the ‘ideal solution’ of a satisfactory, independent regulatory body to be set up by the industry.”
The industry hopes that by setting out its own detailed proposals for how the new watchdog would work, including a requirement that it would ratify a new journalists’ Code of Practice drawn up in consultation with the public, David Cameron will be able to fulfil his desire to implement Leveson without law.
Lord Hunt said: “If we are going to restore trust and confidence, the industry must respond with speed.”