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,
book cover image
«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
* 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):
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
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)
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.
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
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
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
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
Meyer's evidence to Iraq Inquiry, November 2009
Iraq Inquiry site [Oral Evidence by Meyer Full Video & Transcript PDF, 26 November 2009]