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Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Toothless Is As Toothless Does

The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) regularly gets it in the neck for being less than totally effective. This is not totally unrelated to its being perceived as too close to the industry it is supposed to be policing: its Editors’ Code Committee is chaired by the unapologetic and bullying Paul Dacre, the legendarily foul mouthed editor of the Daily Mail.

So it was no surprise that the Commons’ committee for Culture, Media and Sport recommended the PCC get increased powers, and that it called the PCC toothless. The inadequacy of the PCC was then superbly illustrated when another unsavoury and unapologetic Daily Mail hack, Jan Moir, penned a hatchet job on the memory of Boyzone star Stephen Gately, generating over 25,000 complaints.

The PCC has now ruled, surprise surprise, that Moir’s article did not breach press guidelines, with suitably worded noises about “free expression of the columnists’ views”, which is complete baloney. The Moir article had nothing to do with free expression: rather, it was written to order, and to fit the Mail’s agenda, which in the case of Stephen Gately, was to reinforce prejudice against gays.

The apologist for the PCC’s behaviour, Baroness Buscombe, then tells that editors have to “consider ... key ethical issues before publishing”. This, too, is utter tosh: that Paul Dacre has any ethical compass, let alone being constrained by such a concept, is utterly fanciful. Moreover, that he or any other editor would defer to the PCC is beyond the bounds of credibility.

If there is to be regulation of the Fourth Estate, then it should be done properly, and that means having a regulator independent of the press, able to make binding decisions and order proper and prompt retractions and apologies. Such a body, operating fairly but firmly, would soon cause the various editors to actually think through the consequences of their actions before publishing.

Because right now, all we have is a toothless and therefore useless regulator, leaving the only redress for so many victims of the less principled part of the press in the hands of lawyers. Those who cannot afford legal redress become damaged by the sequence of publication, delay and grudging retraction. That’s not good enough.

There should be proper regulation of the press, and an end to the sham that is the PCC.

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