U.K. Press Complaints Body Looks To Avoid Fresh Laws

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The new regulatory body stems in part from the phone-hacking scandal that engulfed Rupert Murdoch's News International.

LONDON –  The duo drawing up plans to replace the U.K.'s Press Complaints Commission, Lord Hunt and Lord Black, think fresh laws would allow government interference and could damage the notion of the free press in the U.K.

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The self-regulatory watchdog closed after 21 years earlier this year after being deemed to have been damaged beyond repair from its response to the phone-hacking scandal that engulfed Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper publishing division News International and the wider U.K. print media industry.

James Murdoch stunned U.K. media industry just over a year ago to the day by announcing that News Corporation would shut down The News of the World, ending that newspaper's history going back 168 years.

Despite their reluctance to enact new laws, the duo believes the new regulator should have more exacting standards of recourse against those violating codes of practices.” Hunt and Black also told the Leveson inquiry -- set up to look into media standards and ethics -- that any new press regulator should have the power to fine up to £1 million ($1.54 milion) or 10 per cent of a publisher's annual turnover.

First Hunt, the PCC chairman as the phone-hacking scandal burst into the public's consciousness, then Black, the chairman of the body that finances the commission, the Press Standards Board of Finance (PressBof), took to the stand to supply Leveson with their findings to date.

Black told the inquiry that the newspaper industry broadly has a "philosophical and fundamental" opposition to fresh legislation.

In early March, Black and Hunt undertook further consultation with the industry on plans for a contract and articles of association for the new watchdog.

Black said Monday at the Leveson inquiry that the "vast bulk of the industry" remains opposed to any statutory backstop to the new press regulator.

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He noted that while some editors remain relaxed about fresh legislation, most are not.

There was no mention specifically of Murdoch's titles or editors involved in the ongoing phone-hacking during the hearing.

Later in the day, Hunt proposed that the fresh press regulator should also include an anonymous whistleblowers' hotline for journalists to report nefarious activities.

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