The NUJ has roundly rejected the model for a new press regulator set out by Lord Black, dismissing it as a club for editors and proprietors, offering just more of the same.
Presenting evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said that a new model which included journalists on the board and had a majority of stakeholders drawn from civil society was the only way to regulate a democratic and ethical press. The body would put press freedom and standards at its heart and, critically, would be independent from Parliament and the industry.
She said: "The proposals outlined by Lords Black and Hunt effectively amount to nothing but more of the same. There is no real substantive change in what's on the table. They have ignored the opportunity to address key problems that have been highlighted, not just by the NUJ but also by many other campaign groups involved in press freedom and journalism, by many members of the public and groups who have come here to explain to you how badly they feel let down by the press and by the PCC's failure to do anything about it.
"The vested interests, the owners and editors, are doing all they can to ensure a continuation of the status quo. If they get away with this, it would not only be a monumental waste of a golden opportunity for change, it would also be a waste of a costly public inquiry."
The NUJ has proposed a new independent form of regulation, with a statutory backstop to establish the framework, terms of reference and stakeholder participation.
Michelle Stanistreet said: "The NUJ backs independent regulation and accountability of the press. It is vital that journalists play a key part in this new body and that members of the public make up the majority. For too long we have had self-regulation by the media bosses, which has amounted to no accountability at all. The PCC has consistently refused all demands for reform and change. Despite its clear failure, Lord Black and Lord Hunt are demanding yet another spell in the last chance saloon. Their proposals amount to nothing more than a rebranded PCC. They have rejected calls for the NUJ to be involved in a new regulator, and they have refused to allow third-party complaints from members of the public."
The NUJ¹s model would establish a Press Standard Commission (PSC), with a board and an ombudsman who would take up complaints made against newspapers. The ombudsman would report to the board which would be made up of two-fifths from the industry, represented by members from, for example the NUJ and Society of Editors, and three-fifths from the public selected by an appointments board.
The PSC board would monitor press freedom and standards, take on complaints unresolved by the ombudsman, play a role in training and would use its investigative powers to intervene when the press behaved badly. It would be able to impose fines. It would be responsible for a code of conduct, which would include a conscience clause for journalists.
There has been much discussion at the inquiry about the so-called Desmond problem, and the withdrawal of Northern & Shell from the PCC. The NUJ is calling for compulsory membership of the new body to avoid a situation where companies can effectively opt out.
Professor Chris Frost, chair of the NUJ Ethics Council, who gave evidence with the general secretary, told the Inquiry: "You have to understand that if the press over the past 30 years had actually behaved in the way that they claim and had not allowed their commercial interests to run riot over their ethics, we wouldn't be in this situation now. The fact is self-regulation hasn't worked. That is why we're all here. We have to look at new solutions.
The model proposed by the NUJ at Leveson mirrors the system in Ireland, which has been supported by the NUJ since the inception of the Press Council of Ireland and Press Ombudsman. The NUJ plays a key role in the Press Council, which operates a co-regulatory approach which the union believes should be introduced in the UK.