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Monday 9 July 2012

PCC Gets Blackout

While the Leveson Inquiry continues its hearings, a number of luminaries have appeared before it, or have otherwise pontificated, in order to put forward their own ideas as to how the toothless and terminally useless Press Complaints Commission (PCC) could be made fit for purpose, or better still replaced by some system that commands the confidence of those that need it most.

PCC not having a problem here

Previously, the PCC was run by the press, and by the most miraculous of coincidences was adept at siding with that same press on a range of issues: the case of its sudden inability to take action after Jan Moir was ordered by her legendarily foul mouthed editor to cobble together a hatchet job on the memory of Stephen Gately was just one nadir from the recent past.

That same editor, Paul Dacre, as intolerant and bullying as any of those who scrabble around the dunghill that is Grubstreet, was for many years chair of the PCC’s editors’ code of conduct committee. In other words, the worst offender in the matters of accuracy, truth, and apology was the fox left in charge of the chicken run. And then came Phonehackgate.

Now into this moderately sensitive area has stepped Guy Black, who for almost three years has been chairing the Press Standards Board of Finance (Pressbof), the body which funds the PCC and oversees the press’ system of self-regulation. Appearing before Lord Justice Leveson this morning, Black proposed his own solution for replacing the PCC. And here there was yet another remarkable coincidence.

This was because the new PCC looked very much like what had gone before. Indeed, the Press Gazette analysis was headed “Press owners launch bid to stop new state controls”. The proposed body would be underpinned by an editors’ code of practice, drawn up by, guess who, editors themselves. Its board appears to have an inbuilt press majority.

There would be more public members, but Black is missing the crucial point here: having the press regulating the press, as the PCC was effectively doing (or, much of the time, not), has not instilled confidence with the public. Having editors and their appointees intimately involved in the regulatory process has failed. What is needed, self-regulation or otherwise, is to have the press on the outside.

That means the industry advising any new regulatory body, but no more. This will deeply offend Paul Dacre and any other control freaks within the Fourth Estate, but it is the only way that the public can be confident that PCC mark 2 will be properly independent. And if a statutory framework is needed to make sure the press does what that body tells it to do, then so be it.

We need a body that works. The old PCC did not. It’s as simple as that.

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