The Mirror claimed that Martin interview was in the public interest
The Press Complaints Commission’s imminent ruling on the Daily Mirror’s payment to convicted murderer Tony Martin is expected to come down on the side of the newspaper.
The decision will be released in the next two weeks but the commission has given the strongest possible hint of its mindset by publishing this week a new paper declaring its policy on payments to criminals.
It has never censured a newspaper for publishing material where there is a clear public interest, the paper emphasises. It sets out the PCC’s proactive approach to investigating complaints about payments to criminals, claiming its decisions “have always been unambiguous, clear and consistent”. It emphasises that the Editors’ Code of Practice does not completely block newspapers and magazines paying those convicted of a crime.
Rather, says the PCC, its aim is “to stop newspapers making payments for stories about crimes which do not contain a public interest element”.
The Mirror has claimed Martin would never have given the interview, which it believes was in the public interest, without a big payment.
The PCC paper is seen as a vigorous riposte to the editors of The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Independent and The Guardian, who heavily criticised the commission in July for its censure of The Guardian over a payment to prisoner John Williams for his diary detailing Lord Archer’s life in prison.
They said they found the PCC’s interpretation of the code’s payment to criminals clause ambiguous.
Commission director Guy Black said: “This paper underlines how rigorously consistent the PCC has been over the years and will continue to be .”
In 1998, the PCC promised the Government it would act automatically to investigate payments to criminals – a complaint from the aggrieved party being highly unlikely – to avoid legislation.
The PCC applies four key tests to these investigations: Did the article contain any information of public interest? Was any new information made available to the public? If so, was payment necessary? Was there any profit or direct financial benefit involved? The Commission says it has “always acted of its own volition where there is clear evidence of a breach of the code, either by payments to criminals or witnesses and in financial journalism cases”.
It instances its decisions in the case of the City Slickers and the Mirror as an example of the latter and those of Rose West, Paul Gadd (Gary Glitter), Amy Gehring and the kidnap attempt on Victoria Beckham as payments to witnesses.
Not to have censured The Guardian over the Williams column would have given “the green light for prisoners to write about notorious killers and other criminals in return for potentially very large sums of money”, the PCC maintains.
The commission takes a liberal view of the code’s requirements for serialisation of books, “having regard to the extent to which the material has, or is about to, become available to the public”.
It recognises newspapers and magazines are subject to a tough code in the way book publishers and broadcasters are not and that payment has to be made for the material. “In most book serialisations, there is not generally a direct benefit to the criminal,” it declares.
By Jean Morgan