Newspapers may be forced to join regulator
Ian Burrell is Assistant Editor and Media Editor at The Independent, i paper and Independent on Sunday. He covers news from the whole media sector from television, press, radio and advertising to technology. His weekly column on the media appears every Monday in The Independent and i paper. He also writes on media, music and culture, including long-form pieces for The Independent’s Saturday magazine and the Independent on Sunday’s magazine, New Review. He is a regular presenter of BBC Radio 4’s What The Papers Say and a specialist commentator to Monocle 24 radio. He has contributed to most major broadcast outlets including BBC television and radio, CNN, Sky News, Al Jazeera and LBC. He has also written on media for GQ magazine. Ian has been reporting on the media industry for The Independent for more than a decade. Previously he was the newspaper’s Home Affairs Editor. He worked at The Sunday Times for five years, including as a member of the investigative Insight team, covering stories on political funding, industrial espionage and the arms industry. Previously he worked in ITV for London Weekend Television, on a weekly current affairs programme presented by Danny Baker. Ian trained at the Birmingham Post & Mail and was Regional Reporter of the Year in Press Gazette’s national awards.
Tuesday 17 January 2012
The Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said yesterday that the Government could take action to force newspapers to sign up to a new regulatory system and subject them to severe financial penalties if they refused.
Mr Hunt said he was prepared to consider "statutory underpinning" of any body that succeeded the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) so the new system had the confidence of the British public.
He stressed that he was not in favour of any statutory involvement in press content and that he was hopeful the newspaper industry would put forward its own solutions for the structure of its future regulation. The Government favoured a "light touch" approach, he said.
Mr Hunt's evidence, given to the Joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions, has important implications for newspaper publishers, particularly Richard Desmond's Northern & Shell group, which has taken its four newspapers – the Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Star and Daily Star Sunday – out of the PCC. In evidence to the Leveson Inquiry last week, Mr Desmond ridiculed the body, describing it as a "tea and biscuit brigade".
Mr Hunt said one possible penalty for press organisations that refused to join the new regulatory body would be to deny them legal status as newspaper companies, thereby forcing them to charge VAT on their products. "At an extreme you could expel an organisation from an industry-led body," he said. "There's a lot of different varieties of statutory underpinning – it's about incentives to comply with the code [of practice]." The Culture Secretary said the existing PCC editors' code of conduct was "excellent" but that it lacked "effective enforcement".
Although a succession of national newspaper editors have told Lord Justice Leveson of their opposition to state regulation of the press, Mr Hunt suggested there may be support for the new regulator to be legally backed.
At the same hearing, Mr Hunt expressed reluctance to extend the remit of a future press regulator to include bloggers. A member of the committee, Lord Gold, told him and Ken Clarke, the Justice Secretary, that some bloggers were operating outside the jurisdiction and making "lots of money". Mr Clarke responded by saying that a "high proportion" of bloggers were "nuts and extremists".
Mr Hunt said the press played a valuable role in society and that it was important the public had confidence in it. During discussion of the laws on privacy, Mr Clarke also said he believed the use of super-injunctions had sharply declined.
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