‘Hands-Off,’ Press and Magazine Regulator Tells UK Politicos

28 February 2003

Britain's Press Complaints Commission, a voluntary regulatory body funded by the publishing industry, on Wednesday dumped 538 pages of documented self-justification on the doorstep of the House of Commons culture, media and sport select committee’s inquiry into media intrusion and the public’s right to privacy.

The evidence presented includes …

• How the PCC provides a first class service to the public, including details of a customer satisfaction survey and statistics on dispute resolution;

• Clear evidence of how the editors’ Code has raised standards of reporting, and developed in partnership with Government and others to tackle key problem issues;

• Detailed statistics on who is affected by media intrusion, and how the PCC has developed privacy jurisprudence – backed by the Courts – to protect the privacy of ordinary people and public figures alike;

• The comprehensive public information programme undertaken by the Commission to ensure its services are known to the public – backed up by new MORI poll evidence about the name recognition of the Commission;

• A detailed analysis of the Commission’s structures and procedures, including the independence of the PCC, its sanctions and its accountability; and

• How the PCC fits into a strong European tradition of self-regulation – and is now acting as a model for other countries wishing to establish their own Press Councils or Commissions.

The PCC has been without a permanent chairman since the resignation last year of Lord John Wakeham, a board director of disgraced US giant Enron. His successor, acting chairman Professor Robert Pinker, hailed Wednesday’s tome as “the most detailed and most persuasive chronicle of self-regulation ever published by the PCC”.

The ‘persuasive’ refrain was taken up by PCC executive director Guy Black, who argued that the body should continue to be funded by publishers and not the government.

“There is no public appetite for government funding,” he claimed. “Government funding means government control of that body, which is absolutely inimical to a free society in my view. Governments do not set up newspapers, except for the Soviet Union and Zimbabwe.”

[Setting aside the fact that no British government in living memory has tried to set up a newspaper, save a temporary bulletin during the 1926 General Strike, Black’s reference to the Soviet Union is instructive – not least because that entity ceased to exist twelve years ago.]

He also rubbished the concept of a press ombudsman, saying such a post was tantamount to appointing a political “scrutineer”. If complainants were not satisfied with a PCC decision, said Black, they could seek a judicial review – although he did not explain how an ordinary member of the public might afford that luxury.

Data sourced from: MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff