Press to appoint privacy watchdog

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PROFESSOR Robert Pinker is to be named as the newspaper industry's privacy ombudsman tomorrow, in an attempt to prevent the Government imposing its own ombudsman and separate system.

The professor of social work studies at the London School of Economics is already a member of the Press Complaints Commission, and although taking a special responsibility for privacy cases, will try to ensure that the issue is kept 'in-house', with the self-regulatory body.

The commission's announcement comes as the Government's proposed White Paper on privacy and the press is further delayed. When asked at the Media Society lunch on Monday for a date for the White Paper, initially promised for the new year, Peter Brooke, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, could not give a precise date.

The Department of National Heritage says that the White Paper is being delayed because of the need to distil the Lord Chancellor's consultation exercise on privacy, which addressed the range of difficult legal issues about defining the scope of any new laws.

But the newspaper industry is fairly confident that the public outcry over the controversy surrounding Tim Yeo and other MPs has weakened the case for legislation, which may be interpreted as trying to give public figures special protection.

'Is the Government in any position to propose a privacy law. Won't it just blow up in their face?' asked a leading industry figure.

Marjorie Mowlam, Labour's heritage spokesman, said: 'I think it is unlikely to scupper legislation. But it will probably be delayed. Common sense says 'they ain't going to introduce it now'.'

Professor Pinker, who also sits on the Advertising Standards Authority, is tipped by some to take over the chairmanship of the commission from Lord McGregor, who has been damaged by his outbursts over press conduct.