phase of Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry is looking at media
"culture, practices and ethics
ny parliamentary move to regulate newspapers would "open a Pandora's
box" which could stifle freedom of speech, the chairman of the Press
Complaints Commission says.
Lord Hunt told the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics that he had seen
state regulation "go very badly wrong".
He had consulted on proposals, and felt "there is a willingness to
accept a fresh start and a new body".
His predecessor, Sir Christopher Meyer, also said he supported
Lord Hunt, who has been in his job since October, said he wanted to see
the "participation of the whole industry in its own regulation".
He said: "There are very strong views in Parliament that there must be
stronger limits on the power of the press and this would therefore, in
my mind, open a Pandora's box."
Inquiry chairman Lord Justice Leveson asked him: "Do you think that
Parliament might seek to use any form of legislation, however it was
cast, as a way of controlling the press?"
He replied: "Yes, and they have told me so, many of them, in both
He said part of the self-regulation was that newspapers should ensure
internal compliance and complaints mechanisms should operate properly -
"the admiral on the bridge should know what is happening in the engine
He said a new regulator should have two arms: one to deal with
complaints and mediation, and the other for auditing standards and
He said he had spoken to "the whole range of publications".
"I sense there is a willingness to accept a fresh start and a new body."
His proposals include a five-year rolling contract for the publishers to
sign up to.
Sir Christopher earlier told the Leveson Inquiry that legislation could
be taken advantage of if the state became "less conscious of our
Anti-terror legislation was an example of how the state could act in an
authoritarian way, he said.
In his evidence to the inquiry into press standards and practices, Sir
Christopher said that the current system of self-regulation in the UK
was basically "as good as you're going to get".
He was chairman of the PCC when the phone-hacking scandal at the News of
the World (NoW) first broke in August 2006.
He said that he was concerned that the phone-hacking scandal could lead
to the introduction of regulation that would be more oppressive than it
needed to be.
"Once you allow the state into this area, whatever the best intentions
may have been, you are by definition standing on the top of a slippery
"Twenty, 25 years later, things change, politics change, it is quite
possible a less permissive and liberal state, less conscious of our
freedoms, might try to take advantage of that legislation to do things
that would be offensive to the principle of freedom of expression."
Sir Christopher said he was a strong believer in the freedom of the
press and its self-regulation and that he believed "very firmly" that
the PCC was a regulator.
In March 2008, the parents of missing girl Madeleine McCann won a libel
settlement and apology from Express Newspapers for suggesting they were
responsible for their daughter's death.
He said the McCanns had needed the press for publicity's sake, when
their daughter disappeared in Portugal in 2007, but had been forced to
strike a "Faustian bargain".
Sir Christopher said Portuguese police had been "leaking like sieves"
and journalists under pressure to keep the story running had started
"It is something that happens from time to time, and in this case it led
to the McCanns being accused of something which is utterly abominable."
Sir Christopher said that the PCC had to be close to the industry it
regulated and that he tried to take every national editor out to lunch
once a year. But he denied being a "lap dog".
"If you think that I was sitting in their pocket not daring to do things
that they disliked, then think again."
Lord Grade, chairman of the BBC between 2004 and 2006, was appointed to
the PCC in May 2011, and said in his first few months he was "really
surprised" by the extent of intervention by the PCC before publication
"to stop some of the worst excesses".
He said he objected to statutory regulation because it would raise the
prospect of judicial review, and the complaints process would be slower.
The Leveson Inquiry was set up by Prime Minister David Cameron in July
2011 amid new revelations of phone hacking at the now-defunct newspaper.
The first phase is examining the practices and ethics of the press.
A second phase of the inquiry, after a police investigation into phone
hacking at the NoW is complete, will focus on unlawful conduct by the
press and the police's initial hacking investigation.