BBC director general Mark Thompson has come to the defence of the Press Complaints Commission – arguing that the current system of press regulation should not be ‘dismissed out of hand”.
Giving a speech to the International Press Institute conference in Taiwan, Thompson warned against the creation of a single regulator covering all news outlets and said he was ‘sceptical of the view that newspapers should be regulated in the same way as broadcasters like the BBC who reach into every household in the land”.
He said: ‘Plurality of regulation is a good thing. One of the safeguards that broadcasters in the UK have is the presence of a far less regulated press which can draw attention to any attempt by the authorities or anyone else to misuse their powers when it comes to broadcasting.
“To put all journalism under a single converged regulator would potentially mean that, if ever the state wished to limit media freedom, it would have a single lever with which to do so.”
Commenting on the PCC, Thompson said that the ‘current British model of self-regulation of the press is not to be dismissed out of hand,’adding: ‘The PCC has a good record in arbitrating complaints and disputes.
‘The PCC was not established as a regulator as such and it is not reasonable to criticise it for not doing things it is not designed or empowered to do.”
Thompson did, however, call for the current system of regulation to be overhauled, arguing that it should be given ‘the power to conduct unfettered investigations into complaints and, in cases where serious complaints are upheld, to impose fines or other sanctions on guilty parties”.
Thompson also used his speech to warn that British journalism was in a ‘dangerous period’following attempts by Scotland Yard to force The Guardian to disclose the source of a phone-hacking story.
He claimed the action by the Met was part of a disturbing trend in which ‘police forces in many parts of the UK routinely to demand that journalists disclose sources and hand over journalistic materials”.
“At the BBC, we receive an ever-growing number of demands for untransmitted news rushes which the police seem to regard as having no more privilege or protection attached to them than CCTV pictures,’he added.
“Like politicians, the police often find themselves with a conflict of interest when weighing the independence of the media with their own priorities as they conduct investigations,’Thompson continued, ‘Sometimes that conflict leads to faulty – and dangerous – actions.”