18 September 2010

Media Culpa: PCC, Regulation, Ethics and Lusophobia



And there is plenty more – proof, if we needed it, of that remarkable line once uttered by a tabloid news editor: "... that is what we do – we go out and destroy people's lives."

News of the world? Fake Sheikhs & Royal Trappings by Peter Burden
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«A number of recent stories in and about the press have once again, focused attention on the role of the Press Complaints Commission (“PCC”) as the “independent regulator” of the print media. There is the The “News of the World” phone hacking story and the shocking treatment of Wayne Rooney and William Hague (see our posts here and here). There are also the recent “privacy injunctions” which, as the Liberal Democrat Voice points out, also suggest that the regime regulating privacy is not working. In relation to the hacking story, the PCC Watch Blog concludes that “The PCC is not equipped to deal with phone hacking and not constituted to act as a regulator”.

As the then director of the PCC Tim Toulmin, told the House of Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport:

“We are a complaints body; we are not statutory; we are like an ombudsman, really. People want us to be more like a general regulator with statutory powers and so on. That is a separate argument; the fact is we are not that body”.

There is a strong argument that, as a complaints body, the PCC cannot deal with the general issues about the way in which the press obtains and publishes information. What is needed is a regulator.

A similar point is made in an article in the Guardian this week, by Professor Brian Cathcart*. He was the specialist adviser to the Select Committee for its inquiry into press standards, privacy and libel. His article asks the question “Is the time ripe for statutory regulation of the media?” He draws attention to various problems with the press over recent times

“Besides the outrage of phone hacking we have had the Max Mosley case, where the “journalism” of the News of the World was exposed in court as an offence against ethical standards. In the McCann case virtually the entire tabloid press behaved, over almost a whole year, with a wanton disregard for truth, fairness and justice”.»

more at Inform's Blog 

A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words

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* Brian Cathcart is not defending fairness and unbiased reporting regarding the McCann affair, whilst he states the above, the xenophobic attack perpetrated by the UK media in general to Portugal, on the Portuguese institutions and its people clearly means nothing to him. Hypocrisy? Deontology? Ethics? Sardines anyone?

From the Professor's hand,  published on the Guardian back in March 1, 2010 (extract):

«But when our national press is exposed as not fit for purpose – as it was by MPs last week in relation to the McCann case, among other scandals – those journalists and editors somehow don't feel the same. So there wasn't room on the front page of the Sun last week to howl for the resignation of, to name but one, Peter Hill, editor of the Daily Express. Nor on the front of the Daily Mirror. Nor the Daily Mail. And certainly not the Express or the Daily Star.

Not on the inside pages either, where the coverage of the report by the Commons select committee on the media displayed the kind of restraint for which, a year or so ago, Kate and Gerry McCann would have been grateful. So restrained were most of these papers, in fact, that their readers might be forgiven for not knowing about the report at all.

The committee (to which I acted as adviser) totted up the hundreds, yes hundreds, of untrue, made-up articles about the McCann case for which papers had to pay up and make apologies. It noted these were only a sample from an even wider pool of falsehoods, and it quoted Gerry McCann and Hill in agreement that the couple could have sued every newspaper group, and won.»


Brian Cathcart is professor of journalism at Kingston University and was specialist adviser to the Commons select committee on culture, media and sport for its inquiry into press standards, privacy and libel, 2008-10

Video Intermezzo

 Greenslade and Meyer's debate on Daily Politics via BBC

Enter the media lawyer

“PCC: secretive, biased and weak” by Jonathan Coad published at British Journalism Review December 2009 (extracts only)

“The press has the power to affect government policy, force MPs to resign, glean intimate details of the lives of the famous via huge bribes to their employees to betray their confidence. It can undertake these activities safe in the knowledge that, because few have the means to challenge it legally, and there is no effective regulation, the press faces no sanction if it transgresses. As the Information Commissioner’s Office said recently, it had been “badly let down” by Parliament, the courts and the newspapers in its attempt to stop the “flourishing” trade in illegally obtained confidential personal information.

This ugly trade should have prompted a rigorous response by the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), which should have led the way in stamping it out rather than leaving it to the overworked Commons Culture Media and Sport Committee. But the PCC has repeatedly shown itself impotent and unwilling to tackle the excesses of the powerful industry that it regulates. That leaves us all victims of those excesses either directly, as our rights are infringed by it, or as consumers when we are fed a polluting diet of falsehood and inaccuracy by the press because it is profitable and sanction-free to do so. This is as much the fault of successive governments as it is the press, because none has had the courage to instigate a press regulation system that can command confidence.

My experience of dealing with the PCC since its inception suggests it is principally a cartel, set up for the purpose of ensuring that the lack of press accountability is preserved against any form of effective regulation and to the clear detriment of the rights of the individual. (...) One of the most obvious anomalies of the British media is that the broadcast element is regulated by Ofcom – a body also weighted in favour of the industries it regulates, but at least one with statutory powers – yet the hugely powerful print media has no such formal/statutory regulation. Only the press-created/appointed/funded PCC has any “regulatory” role for newspapers, magazines and their online content.

(...) One of the problems faced by anyone appraising the PCC is that it is astonishingly secretive about its own procedures – in stark contrast to the complaints made by the press about the lack of openness in government, Parliament and, recently, Sir John Chilcot’s Iraq inquiry. The press rightly tells us to be suspicious of any institution that hides its processes from public view – particularly if it is one that both makes its own rules and administers them. When you add that the PCC is also the self-regulatory body of one of the most powerful institutions in the country, inevitably alarm bells ring.

The PCC refuses to be subject to the Freedom of Information Act, to allow either the public or complainants to attend its adjudications, or any public representation whatsoever on the Committee that writes/reviews the Code of Practice. Parliament is a completely open book in comparison.

One of the ironies of the refusal by the PCC to be subject to FOI is that the Act itself has come about, to a substantial degree, as a result of lobbying by journalists. The press led the charge against MPs’ attempts to evade the impact of the FOI on their own activities, and in particular concerning their own self-interest in the form of MPs’ expenses. The cries of foul from the editorial pages when attempts were made to exclude the issue of MPs’ remuneration from the Freedom of Information Act were deafening.

The hypocrisy is startling. Both predecessors of new PCC director Baroness Peta Buscombe (Lord Wakeham and Sir Christopher Meyer) lobbied the Department of Culture Media and Sport determinedly to make sure the PCC would not be made subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Ofcom, which regulates the broadcast media, is a statutory body which is plainly independent nonetheless and apparently manages to undertake its role under the burden of being a public authority. Furthermore, since a series of craven governments have in effect delegated the regulation of the press to the PCC, in any sensible analysis, it is a public authority.

Leaving aside the obvious complicity between government and the PCC for their mutual benefit on this issue, why would an industry that tells us repeatedly that no modern democratic society can be free while important decisions which affect all our lives are made in secret insist that its own regulation be conducted in precisely that way? This immediately arouses suspicion that there is much that institution wants to hide.

(...) The continued claims made by the PCC to be “independent” are manifestly untrue, since it was set up by the press; is funded by the press; its members are appointed by the press; seven of the 17 Commission members are editors; the lay members are appointed by the Commission and the PCC Code is written exclusively by the press. The PCC’s obvious lack of independence renders it both structurally and culturally incapable of fulfilling its role as the guardian of the interests of the general public against those of the immensely powerful commercial organisations that control print journalism. The proof of this – since it will allow no genuine scrutiny of its procedures or policies – comes from a review of its actions.

The acid test is whether it acts with any independence when it comes to the administration of its sole sanction: obliging the press to publish corrections/apologies with “due prominence”. In this, its primary activity, the PCC unashamedly favours its paymasters at the expense of the interests of public that it is tasked to protect from breaches of the press’s own code. If an article is inaccurate, there are three groups with an interest in the visibility of the redress. For two of those groups the greater prominence that is given to the correction the better. For only one of those groups is it preferable for the prominence given to corrections to be as minimal as possible. If that minority interest group takes precedence and is the very industry that funds/appoints it, then the PCC’s claim to be independent must be false.

For the first of those groups, the complainant(s), their family, friends etc, the more people who read the correction the better. So it is with the second group – the readership of the paper and the public generally (i.e. those that glean the false information via other media, especially where front page stories are concerned): the more of them that learn the truth the better. It is only the third group, those running the newspaper or magazine concerned, on whose interests such a principle would impinge.

This then is where the true test of the PCC’s independence comes: the press sells by the square centimetre prominence in its pages/websites in the form of advertising, so it well knows that many more people glean information from an article taking up the whole page, along with pictures, than a correction taking up, say, 5 per cent of the space of the original subject 7 of complaint.

If the PCC permits corrections and apologies of 5 per cent of the size of the original, it is not providing fair and common sense interpretation of the obligation on the press to publish corrections with “due prominence”. No truly independent body would do such a thing, but that is frequently what the PCC does. If the PCC had any degree of independence it would conduct itself in accordance with the aspirations of the public as a whole – not those of the press.” »

Food for thought
Exclusive Video: McCanns Press Conference


Related News 
Murdoch refuses to answer question on Andy Coulson News of the World phone-hacking scandal(Video)
Tabloid Hack Attack on Royals, and Beyond
DC Confidential by Denis MacShane - former Foreign Office Minister [on Meyer's book]
The News of the World's special relationship with the police
The Conservative Party to recruit McCann spokesperson as head of media monitoring
Sunday Times editor and Carter-Ruck partner on libel law reform panel
Mr Justice Eady replaced as senior libel judge
John Prescott to sue Met over phone hacking details
Culture, Media and Sport Committee Report – privacy OK, defamation needs tweaking, PCC needs improving (again) and severe criticism of News Group over hacking allegations
Meyer slams Media Standards Trust report – it’s ‘statistics of the madhouse’
Visualizations: Possible breaches of the code by clause 
McCanns Support Charities' Call on Home Office 24th Aug 2007
More Madeleine McCanns waiting to happen? May 1, 2008
Kate and Gerry McCann to help raise plight of missing children 18.05.09 

Internal articles
The many victims of the McCann Media Campaign
The explicit racism in the media coverage of Madeleine McCann : Don't go to Portugal for your holiday by Simon Heffer
OH, UP YOURS, SENOR by Tony Parsons
The Triumph of Churnalism
Murdoch's Scum gets even more scummiest: Dead Paedophile's Ghost “knew” who took Maddie
The Daily Mail Sing-a-long Song For Hacks
Hypocrisy R Us: UK Media Infotainment Network
Mr Parsons and the Tooth Fairy – losing my faith in myths
Rachel Charles, Madeleine McCann and British Xenophobia
Press Complaints Commission: what about Tony Parsons?
Portuguese Attorney General Office On the Recycled McCann Spin
Drama & Lies: How the McCanns use Mari Luz in the Maddie case - The opinion of crime specialists

PDF documents
House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee Report on "Whitehall Confidential? The Publication of Political Memoirs" 25 July 2006 [on Meyer's book]
House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee
Press standards, privacy and libel
Second Report of Session 2009–10
2008 report from the Press Complaints Commission (PCC)
2007 report from the Press Complaints Commission (PCC)

On the Side Info
PACT
Meyer, Christopher
Meyer's evidence to Iraq Inquiry, November 2009
Iraq Inquiry site [Oral Evidence by Meyer Full Video & Transcript PDF, 26 November 2009]


16 comments:

  1. You are confusing two entirely different things here Joana. It's not a fair comparison to make - the lies, fabrications, distortions told by the press about the Mccanns are still reverberating now, years after they were printed. People STILL bring up those old stories, print them again, treat then as if they were true on the basis 'the press said it so there must be something in it' even when they were outrageous falsehoods. The McCanns will never be free of that rubbish, the damage is done and cannot be repaired.

    The slurs on Portugal and the Portuguese however are soon forgotten because all they were is a manifestation of an undercurrent of xenophobia which is present in ALL societies - yes, even yours. The readership is so used to this appeal to their baser instincts that they don't treat it as 'real'. It's just a kind of cipher for 'them foreigners'. No long-term damage has been done to any Portuguese individual other than Amaral. The nation as a whole has not suffered from the slight.

    You need to be careful where you go with this joana - you are in danger of making it look as if you care more for what some cheap British rag says about the Portuguese than you do for what really happened to a little child.

    Don't mix the two, please.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Media culpa, media culpa, media maxima culpa.

    ReplyDelete
  3. joana, what is going on?

    No anonymous?

    ReplyDelete
  4. There really isn't freedom of the Press in Britain.

    However, there are unwritten laws in Britain. It is illegal to say that Madeleine McCann was not abducted. It is illegal to state the known facts in the case and to question the McCann’s version of how Madeleine disappeared.

    People should know by now not to trust the Home Office, no one is investigating this case. They tell you that, just to ease your mind.

    ReplyDelete
  5. No more anonymous comments Isabel, though people do not have forcibly to loose their anonymity per se. I'll explain, there are 6 different ways to make a comment via blogger native commenting system; either by creating a google email account, or if you have already a blogspot blog by signing as the blog author. You can also use your Open Id, or AOL/AIM, or any of your accounts with the following blog systems TypePad, WordPress and Live Journal to sign in and leave a comment.

    The reasons are various for this decision but mainly I'm tired of deleting threats, harassment, which aren't always directed at me but also to others. Though I'm very much in favour of anonymity, total anonymity can have a perverse effect when used in a unwise manner. Since I use the blogger native commenting system (which is very poor when comparing to other blog options like wordpress) by allowing total anonymous comments it was impossible to know who had placed an offensive or threatening comment, therefore, by asking people to sign via the possibilities above mentioned I hope that it will somehow deter what has happened for the last 3 years.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I understand the lack of anonymous. You are right, Joana!


    No news yet about the boy in Germany.
    It seems that he disappeared close to his home.
    Could he have been attracked by a neighbour somewhere, a person known by him?
    I fear he is not alive anymore.

    ReplyDelete
  7. The German police found DNA of several different people on Mirco's clothes.
    A source uses the word "clothes", another source says "trousers".
    This is very good news.
    Those people will have to explain why their DNA are on those clothes.
    I pray Germany does not have the stupid law that allow people to refuse being tested.
    Let us wait. I will keep you informed.

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  8. thank you for the update Virgina, didn't have time to read anything on Mirco's disappearance except this article http://www.thelocal.de/society/20100912-29761.html published 8 days ago...

    ReplyDelete
  9. I have difficults to fall asleep.
    The German police are having trouble with a lot of different DNAs, I think.

    Micro's DNA,
    His mother's DNA, who must be responsible about taking care of the family's clothes,
    Eventually his little friend's DNA,
    The DNA of the lady who found the trousers,
    The DNA of the police man to whom the lady gave the trousers, at the police station,

    and at least one DNA of one person who took Mirco.

    What a terrible work for the forensic laboratory.


    Let us all be grateful the German police did not send the clothes to Birmingham.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Unauthorised tapping into or hacking of mobile communications

    The Home Affairs Committee is today announcing a new inquiry into the issue of unauthorised tapping into or hacking of mobile communications. In particular the inquiry will focus on:

    * The definition of the offences relating to unauthorised tapping or hacking in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, and the ease of prosecuting such offences; and
    * The police response to such offences, especially the treatment of those whose communications have been intercepted; and
    * What the police are doing to control such offences

    Rt. Hon Keith Vaz MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

    “The evidence of Assistant Commissioner John Yates today raised a number questions of importance about the law on phone hacking, the way the police deal with such breaches of the law and the manner in which victims are informed of those breaches. I hope that this inquiry will clarify all these important areas."

    http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/home-affairs-committee/inquiries/unauthorised-tapping-and-hacking/

    ReplyDelete
  11. Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner John Yates statement to the Home Affairs Select Committee [September 7, 2010] http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmselect/cmhaff/uc441-i/uc44101.htm

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hacking Scandal: Murdoch to Blair—Help! http://www.newser.com/off-the-grid/post/545/hacking-scandal-murdoch-to-blair-help.html

    ReplyDelete
  13. «Mr. Coulson was editor of The News of the World when this story first broke more than four years ago, and, in the initial fallout, he resigned. Since then, he has rallied and taken up duties in the Murdoch-backed Cameron government. (...)» http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/19/opinion/19pubed.html?_r=3&emc=eta1

    ludicrous toothless pcc to "assess its position after police and parliamentary inquiries".... http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/sep/21/phone-hacking-news-of-the-world

    Newspapers used me as fall guy, says convicted private eye
    Steve Whittamore, who was used by papers including the News of the World, claims he was 'Oliver to the press's Fagin' http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/sep/21/newspapers-fall-guy-steve-whittamore

    Alan Rusbridger: PCC phone-hacking report is 'worse than pointless' [2009] « Alan Rusbridger, the editor of the Guardian, has today branded the Press Complaints Commission report on News of the World phone hacking "worse than pointless".» http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/nov/09/alan-rusbridger-pcc-phone-hacking

    ReplyDelete
  14. 1 keep repeating the mantra, one day you may actually believe in it.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Anonymous 1, The Truth is the British media and the British government does not care about Madeleine McCann, what is of utmost importance to them is protecting the image of her parents, i.e. keeping them happy. The case file is available to the public and you would think that the British media would want to inform Britons of the details. You would think that by presenting the evidence that does exist, to the public, perhaps someone in Britain might have some insight into how the crime was committed. The problem is the evidence points to the child having died in the apartment and the parents and their friends being involved in disposing of her body. I'm sure that many of the people in Britain who have access to the case file have tried to fit the evidence to an abduction scenario, but no matter how hard they try they just can't. There was no abduction!

    Mr. Mitchell is quite proud of how he sat down with British editors to "shape the stories" and apparently no one in British society has publicly voiced their disapproval or perhaps, been allowed to do so. The rags and the so called reputable media outlets all did their part, in their worldwide campaign, to discredit the investigation. Some media outlets were more subtle than others but the objective was the same, to bring the investigation to a halt; an objective which they attained.

    Mr. Mitchell has said often that they have always sought to hire the best people to find Madeleine. Why is it that the people whom the McCann camp deem to be the best, as evidenced by the exorbitant sums of money they supposedly pay them, achieve no results and end up being in serious trouble with the law? Isn't the British public concerned that the money they gave to this fund, to find Madeleine, is being spent on criminals?

    Isn't anyone in Britain asking why this case was so different from others that it was deemed necessary to send about a couple of dozen members of British law enforcement to Portugal? Why did all these British officers abandon Portugal once the McCanns had left? Which is more important the missing girl or her parents who were in no danger? Are Britons not concerned that their police did not furnish the Portuguese police with evidence or carry out investigative work that was crucial to the case being solved? Didn't anyone in Britain publicly express their outrage when they saw their elected officials trying to associate negligent parents, who were suspected of harming their child, with a child welfare cause? Where was the condemnation when Justice Hogg made her appeal to an elusive abductor, knowing full well that the parents were the primary suspects in their daughter's disappearance?

    Madeleine McCann is an English citizen when is someone in her country going to defend her?

    ReplyDelete