According to parliamentary insiders, the air crackled with mutual animosity at Wednesday’s non-meeting of minds between the Press Complaints Commission and the House of Commons culture, media and sport select committee.
The commission, a voluntary regulatory body funded by the UK newspaper and magazine industry, was giving evidence to parliament’s inquiry into privacy and alleged media intrusion.
In the blue corner: the PCC’s royally-connected executive director Guy Black, acting chairman Professor Robert Pinker, Murdoch honcho and chairman of News International Les Hinton (also chairman of the PCC code committee) and lay member Vivien Hepworth.
The latter’s qualifications for this somewhat esoteric chore are listed only as the chairmanship of Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust; but further investigation by WAMN reveals him also to be an executive public affairs lobbyist with Grayling Group, an international PR firm.
Glowering in the opposire corner is select committee chairman Gerald Kaufman (Labour), an ascerbic combination of pedagogue and rottweiler. At his side, lieutenant Chris Bryant MP, who asked why the PCC had yet to take action over the admission by Rebekah Wade, recently appointed editor of The Sun, that News International titles have paid police officers for information.
“That,” parried the PCC’s Black, “is a criminal matter and would be a matter for the police. No regulatory body or self-regulatory body has the powers to act outside this remit. As far as I understand it, if a policeman has accepted payment the policeman has committed a criminal offence. It is a matter for the criminal law.”
Wade’s boss, Hinton, attempted to deny such payments, despite her earlier testimony to the select committee. “I’ve no reason to know or believe that there have ever been payments,” he insisted. “My understanding was that she [Wade] said there had been payments made in the past.”
Countered Bryant: “We have the odd situation of having had a News International editor before us who was extremely candid. We now have the chairman of the code committee, who is also the chairman of News International, who gives us a different story. Is it time for you to clean up your act?”
Hinton, who is clearly unaccustomed to such directness outside the pages of The Sun was not amused. “"Clean up our act?” he fumed. “Are you saying we’re dirty? All I can say is that if you are in possession of that information you should give it to the police.”
Retorted Bryant: “I have done so. It is one of the areas the government has to look at in the new Corruption Act.” The jousting continued along similar lines for some time.
Data sourced from: MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff