Guarding the guardians – the PCC and Leveson

About a year ago, I commented on a couple of websites on the reforms I wanted to see happen to the Press Complaints Commission. I thought it was worth revisiting those in light of both the phone hacking scandal and the criticism of the PCC that ensued, and the changes that we’re likely to see in the way the media is held to account following The Leveson Inquiry.

My original posts were as follows:

“This is what I’d like to see happen regarding the PCC:

  1. Create a new backbench Commons Select Committee for the print and broadcast media (which by its very nature will contain NO government ministers);
  2. Give that committee powers of summons – i.e. like that of a court but greater – in that it can “send for papers and persons” – and compel them to appear before that committee;
  3. Make the Press Complaints Commission the investigative branch of that Parliamentary Committee and ultimately responsible to Parliament – similar to what the National Audit Office is for the Public Accounts Committee;
  4. Have a transparent system of complaints and redress where people, writers and publishers are clear about what standards are required in the publication of articles;
  5. Have a post of “Reporter General” who can adjudicate (in the same way the PCC does now) in all but the most serious of cases, and require publishers to set the record straight – as is now;
  6. Give the Reporter General the ultimate sanction is to refer such cases for a public hearing involving all parties – including editors, journalists and publishers;
  7. Where a journalist, editor or publisher disagrees with the ruling in 5, they can appeal to the Select Committee – who can then decide whether to hear or dismiss the appeal, and whether to allow the appeal or uphold the original decision;
  8. When the Select Committee has issued its report on a case, the publication will have to publish the summary ruling in full, provide appropriate links to the full ruling and comply with whatever decisions the Select Committee decide;
  9. Failure to comply with 8 ) would leave those concerned in contempt of Parliament.

The grounds for this being that Parliament is the representative of the people, and that through Parliament the people should have a right to redress and to scrutinise publishers, editors and journalists on the content that they publish. It could also be incorporated into the reform of libel laws too.”

What seems to have become clear from what limited feedback I got from twitter was that people are (understandably) nervous about the idea of politicians having any ‘regulatory’ role in regulating the press. Thus we have an inevitable tension between the role of politicians as…politicians, and the role of Parliament and those within it as being representatives of the people. (The Commons anyway).

The current system of the PCC is broken – we know that already – not least from the fact that Northern and Shell titles (incl the Express & Daily Star newspapers and OK! Magazine) are no longer part of the PCC system.

The question of “Who guards the guardians?” is a sound one. My concerns to throw in the mix on formulating a solution is around lines of accountability back to the general public at large – and that means through Parliament. Will whatever organisation that emerges from Leveson have both statutory powers (e.g. to compel organisations responsible for indiscretions to make corrections) and statutory responsibilities (e.g presenting annual reports to Parliament and regular appearances before the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee)?

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