Tories back proposal for press watchdog

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The Independent Online
A PRIVATE Member's Bill giving newspaper readers a right to insist on corrections of inaccurate reporting has a high chance of becoming law, Clive Soley MP, its sponsor, predicted yesterday, writes Patricia Wynn Davies.

Fifteen Tory MPs have written to Mr Soley, Labour MP for Hammersmith, pledging support for his Freedom and Responsibility of the Press Bill, which seeks to leapfrog the deliberations of the second Calcutt inquiry into press self- regulation and create a lay- dominated watchdog with power to refer editors refusing to correct factual errors to the courts.

The Bill, which does not mention privacy and would not stop David Mellor or royal marriage- type revelations, is aimed at complainants such as Linda Joyce (now Townley), former maid to the Princess Royal, who was wrongly accused by newspapers of stealing intimate letters written by the Queen's Equerry but who could not afford to sue for libel.

An Independent Press Authority, charged also with the job of promoting high ethical standards and reporting annually to Parliament, would intervene where editors and complainants could not agree corrections of factual inaccuracies between themselves.

Where a complaints adviser found in a complainant's favour but the editor refused to publish a correction, the publicly funded authority would have power to refer the case to the High Court. Any newspaper still refusing to publish a correction would be in contempt of court.

The crucial vote on the Bill's Second Reading, which decides whether it goes into committee and has a chance of becoming law, is on 29 January. In the meantime, complainants dissatisfied with the Press Complaints Commission, newspaper editors and proprietors and other interested groups will be invited to give evidence to MPs at a series of cross-party hearings chaired by Patrick Cormack, Tory MP for Staffordshire South.

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