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Former editor and PCC member John McLellan predicts "battleground" over Leveson press regulation proposals

John McLellan

Former Scotsman editor John McLellan believes the newspaper industry will reluctantly accept the recommendations of Lord Justice Leveson but says the issue of statutory regulation will prove a "real battleground".

McLellan is a former member of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) which the Leveson Report proposes be replaced by a new media watchdog underpinned by statutory regulation – an idea which he says is not likely to prove popular with editors.

"No-one in the industry should have anything to fear from a truly independent system but the question is whether a system underpinned by statute is genuinely independent of politicians," McLellan said.

"My feeling is that the industry will be able to take on board many of his ideas, perhaps reluctantly, but accept them nevertheless. But that will not include statutory intervention and that will be the real battleground."

McLellan believes the stand-off could be avoided by adopting PCC head Lord Hunt's proposal for a new, more powerful self-regulatory system in which all publishers would be bound by contracts.

He said: "I would like to think a reasonable compromise is the organisational changes already proposed by Lord Hunt, together with the further demonstration of independence demanded by Lord Leveson, can be given a chance to work without legislation.

"A proper system of self-regulation implies the continuation of the current situation where the regulator is funded by the industry. Pushed too far, publishers could refuse to pay up and it will be politically unacceptable for the tax-payer to foot the bill. Therefore the industry still has a powerful card to play if its continued financial support is to be guaranteed."

McLellan warned that the likelihood of disagreement about how the new regulator should look means it may be some time before any such new system is in place.

"The Irish system, favoured by First Minster Alex Salmond, was in place for two years before it was recognised in the Defamation Act and took five years to develop fully. It would not surprise me if it took a similar amount of time for the new UK system to be properly established.

"If it succeeds, I can see no need for a separate Scottish system because it is likely to result in significant duplication and unnecessary cost. Publishers will already have to take on board one expanded organisation, never mind another entirely new system. Most newspaper publishers are struggling financially and that must be understood."

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