The head of the Press Complaints Commission is to stand down after growing criticism of the watchdog’s handling of the phone-hacking scandal.
Baroness Peta Buscombe has chaired the watchdog since April 2009 after taking over from Sir Christopher Meyer.
Her decision throws the watchdog into further turmoil with its whole future currently under review as a result of Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry into press ethics.
But in a robust parting shot, Lady Buscombe defended the Commssion’s role and vowed to campaign against the introduction of any statutory system of press regulation.
She said: “I am very proud of my work at the PCC, which – from the very beginning – has been aimed at instigating the process of reform of the organisation.
“I am pleased that the Commission want me to continue in post until my successor has been appointed. Thereafter, I will be able to be a campaigner for change from outside the organisation.
“I wish to contribute to the Leveson inquiry and participate fully in the overall debate regarding reform, unfettered by my role as Chairman of the PCC.”
“The importance of a free press has never been greater. It was thanks to investigative journalism that the phone hacking scandal was brought to public attention.
“In this world of shifting media provision, I am convinced the answer to ethical concerns about the press is not statutory intervention.
“What is needed is a greater sense of accountability among editors and proprietors. A PCC with increased powers and reach remains the best way of achieving that.”
The Commission responded in a statement: “We are grateful to Peta for making this announcement today, which will help to ensure that her successor is in a position to assist and support the Inquiry of LJ Leveson.
“We are grateful that she will stay on as Chairman in the interim, as the PCC not only continues to serve the public in handling complaints, but begins the process of formulating improvements to the system of press regulation.
“Peta has made a major contribution to the PCC, and her work has led to many improvements over the last couple of years. She leaves the Commission structurally stronger than when she came in, and in a better position to continue its evolution.
“We thank her for all that she has achieved thus far as our Chairman, and wish her all the very best for her future once she has handed over to her successor.”
The Commission has faced a growing public backlash over the phone-hacking saga, which led to the closure of the News of the World.
Prime Minister David Cameron branded it “ineffective” and “institutionally conflicted,” while opposition leader Ed Miliband described it as “toothless.”
Mr Cameron has said he expects the Leveson inquiry to recommend a new regulatory framework for the industry.
However a number of regional newspaper figures, including Ipswich Evening Star editor and former Society of Editors’ president Nigel Pickover, have defended its work.