The National Union of Journalists has come out in support of a new statutory framework for press regulation, saying there is "no evidence" to suggest that a new law would be used by politicians to "scupper press freedom".
In a new submission to the Leveson inquiry, published online this week, the union pointed to its experiences with broadcasting regulator Ofcom as a successful model of independent regulation supported by statute, and said the current press self-regulatory system has "failed".
The NUJ said any new framework would have to apply to every commercially driven publication over a certain size - possibly a 5,000 circulation or £50,000 annual turnover - and admitted that the rules surrounding news websites was "a thorny issue".
"The PCC's entire history and that of the Press Council before it, indeed all regulation of the press since the Second World War, is a tale of too little too late," the union said.
"It is the very structure of the PCC as an industry-fostered self-regulatory body that has led to its failure. Set up merely as a complaints body with no role in protecting the rights and freedoms of the press or public, working to a code drawn up solely by editors and a commission made up, initially at least, almost entirely of editors, it has spent most of its 22 years existence racing furiously to catch up with demands for reform.
"Self-regulation has been given every possible chance to work in many different forms over the past 40 years and has failed the test every time. The PCC has shown itself to be incapable of genuine reform."
On the issue of introducing new regulation by statute, the NUJ said: "If some commentators are to be believed, any form of regulation other than self regulation will lead to complete curtailment of a free press. First we need to be clear that statutory underpinning of regulation is not the same as statutory regulation.
"There is after all already plenty of statutory regulation limiting press freedom. There is no evidence of predatory parliamentarians just waiting for an opportunity to scupper press freedom."
The NUJ compared the proposal with the Ofcom system currently applied to broadcasters, saying: "All our experience in broadcasting, including the last eight years with Ofcom, shows that regulation supported by statute is not of itself damaging.
"It is ensuring that those with access to power whether members of the government, the business community or elsewhere are not able to abuse the regulatory process or press freedom for their own ends.
"While the NUJ is hugely disappointed that we have reached this point, despite more than 20 years of campaigning for reform of the PCC and press regulation, we now see it as inevitable that there should be some statutory provision for a new regulator that would be able to take complaints, enforce penalties, carry out investigations and monitor performance.
"The legislation would need to identify who would be regulated by the new body, how the new body would be funded and how it would be constituted."
The union said it was "vital" that a new regulator covered all the commercial press equally and that "no one should be able to avoid regulation simply by walking away from the table or refusing to pay a subscription and the easiest way to do this is with statutory powers".
It also recommended that the next communications bill addresses the issue of news websites, and whether it is still appropriate that they should be regulated in the same way as their associated print titles or broadcast outlets.
"The whole issue of news websites is a thorny one," the NUJ said. "Some websites, those associated with broadcasters, are at present regulated by Ofcom and so oblige restrictions that websites associated with newspapers and the PCC are not required to match.
"This presents an opportunity to use the new communications bill to reconsider whether the linkage of websites to more traditional technologies for the purpose of regulation is appropriate or whether online news sites should become a new category, regulated in their own right by the new regulator or a separate regulator.
The NUJ also recommends appointing an independent press ombudsman, who would be the first point of contact for the public, dealing with adjudication and conciliation.
This person would be "a bridge between the industry and the public, and someone journalists could identify with as a defender of standards and ethics".