U.K. Press Complaints Group Head Pushes for Self-Regulation After Hacking Scandal
David Hunt expresses sympathy with calls for regulation from the likes of actor Hugh Grant, but wants to launch a stronger industry body.
LONDON - The chairman of Britain's Press Complaints Commission, a self-regulation body of newspaper publishers, has urged the U.K. government to avoid regulation of the media in the wake of the phone hacking scandal.
Ahead of the publication in the coming weeks of a final report from judge Brian Leveson, who has run an inquiry into media ethics and standards, he called for a continuation of self-regulation. He argued that the majority of newspapers and journalists acted within the framework of law.
The Guardian said that in a speech at an industry gathering, David Hunt expressed sympathy with a push for regulation from the likes of actor Hugh Grant, but appealed to the government to instead allow the creation of a revamped self-regulatory body with the power to probe and fine companies for such behavior as phone hacking, computer hacking and intrusion by paparazzi. Newspapers would sign binding contracts to adhere to its rulings for five years.
Hunt, who was appointed as chairman of the PCC last year to oversee the process of phasing it out following the hacking scandal, also said he was disappointed that some of his colleagues in the Conservative Party last week called for regulation to curb press excesses.
"Because of criminal activities on the part of one national publisher, everyone, including the local and regional press, is threatened with statutory regulation," he said in a speech at the Society of Editors in Belfast.
Hunt argued that the PCC did not have the necessary powers to probe the hacking scandal and take the necessary action.
He surprised some with commenting on Grant's role as one of the public faces of the Hacked Off campaign, which has pushed for media regulation.
"I do have a certain amount of sympathy with some of the views that Hugh Grant has expressed," said Hunt. "I think he genuinely does share my basic belief in freedom of expression and, like me, he understands that freedom is a privilege not an unqualified right, bringing with it certain responsibilities – not to harass, not to bully, not to intrude gratuitously."
Hunt argued that the new regulatory body he is proposing would address Grant's concerns. It would "disown those over-aggressive paparazzi who have no regard for the law, human dignity or even physical safety and blight the lives of innocent people," he said.
Concluded Hunt: "Self-regulation of the press has not failed, because it has never been [properly] tried."