Top U.K. Media Regulator Says Editors Should Not be Part of Newspaper Complaints Procedures

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Ofcom chief Ed Richards tells the Leveson inquiry it would be an unworkable idea to have those regulated deciding on complaints about them.

LONDON – U.K. media watchdog Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards told the Leveson inquiry Thursday that proposals to have serving editors involved in deciding on complaints made about the press would be unworkable.

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Richards was giving evidence to the inquiry setup to look into media standards and ethics in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal that engulfed Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper publishing division News International and the wider U.K. print media industry.

He said suggestions made earlier this week by Lord Black, chairman of the Press Standards Board of Finance, the body that finances the Press Complaints Commission, that the shuttered body be replaced by another self-regulatory organization would simply not work.

The self-regulatory PCC watchdog shut up shop after 21 years earlier this year after being deemed to have been damaged beyond repair from its response to the phone-hacking scandal.

James Murdoch stunned U.K. media industry just over a year ago when News Corporation shut down The News of the World, ending that newspaper's history going back 168 years as the phone-hacking scandal grew.

James Murdoch faced an Ofcom inquiry of his own into whether or not he was fit and proper to sit on U.K. satcaster BSky's board.

Richards told Leveson to have people involved in the industry in the same room as those making decisions about complaints of that industry just didn't work.

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"We would draw a very strong distinction between advice and the presence on decision-making of people actively involved in the industry being present," Richards said.

"I think that is quite the wrong thing to do and makes effective ... decision-making extremely difficult and to be honest in our context would be unimaginable."

Richards, who lost the race to take over from Mark Thompson as the next director general of the BBC to George Entwistle, said that the involvement of working editors would not produce an independent and transparent regulator.

"The idea that we could stand up in public and defend decisions made if we had serving broadcasters," he said.

Leveson interrupted Richards to ask the regulator chief if he thought editors should also be excluded from a committee setting up a code of practice.

Richards noted that editors could be involved in an advisory capacity but they should not be involved in setting the code.

"I think, yes, I would say in terms of code-setting, in terms of sanctions, in terms of corrections and in terms of policy-making overall, you need to have a bright line to separate between those who are regulating and making decisions and those that are regulated," the media watchdog's chief said.

Anything else "immediately undermines the perception, and in all minds, the actuality of your independence," he added.

Ofcom has its own code of practice committee on which broadcasters sit but which remains independent of them.

"We actively seek that feedback from working members of the industry, but it's done in an open and transparent way as part of as consultation process, but the decision making remains with Ofcom," he said.

The PCC has been heavily criticized in the last 12 months in the wake of the News of The World closure for being too close to the industry it regulated.

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