Some of the UK’s leading regional newspaper editors have voiced their support for the Press Complaints Commission in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.
Earlier this year the press watchdog faced fierce criticism from politicians, with Prime Minister David Cameron describing the organisation as ‘ineffective’and Labour leader Ed Miliband saying it was ‘time to put it out of its misery”.
The editors of The Sunday Sun, Scotsman and Liverpool Echo have now defended the body, telling politicians that it has ‘real teeth’and helped raise press standards over the past 20 years.
‘I want to be absolutely clear that editors hate to apologise,’Echo editor Alastair Machray told a joint committee on privacy and injunctions this week.
‘The PCC can make us apologise – they can make us apologise how they want us to apologise, and they can make us apologise where they want to in the paper.
‘That very public apology in my view damages our brands and our papers in the eyes of your readers, and will ultimately be costly financially.
‘So please don’t get the idea that we think the PCC is just a nice option for us. We think, or I think, the PCC works and has real teeth.”
Machray told the committee that in his 16 years as an editor only one adjudication has been held against him, when he was editor of the Daily Post in North Wales.
He said: ‘I was required by the editorial director of Trinity Mirror to explain myself: how has this happened and, more importantly, how are you to prevent this happening again? It’s taken very seriously.’
Scotsman editor John McLellan agreed that the threat of having an adjudication upheld was ‘one of the factors that makes sure that when the code is breached we move swiftly to make amends as much as we can”.
He continued: ‘The code is a very active part of our daily newsroom lives, and just because we don’t have a formal adjudication against us doesn’t mean to say that it’s not effective.”
The Editors’ Code of Practice has also helped to raise press standards across the regional press, argued McLellan
‘I don’t think there’s any doubt about that,’he said. ‘The world is entirely different now to 20 years ago.
‘I can remember publishing a series of pictures in 1997 which would fail the test now. It was a picture of a man killing himself, a series of very dramatic pictures including the man killing his dog first of all. He threw his dog off a bridge in the middle of Edinburgh and then jumped himself.
‘We carried a series of pictures – this very public incident happened right in the middle of town and we couldn’t do that now. There’s no question about that.’
Sunday Sun editor Matt Mackenzie warned that the current focus on phone-hacking and ethics in the national press meant there was a ‘real danger that we end up chucking the baby out with the bathwater”.
He told the committee: ‘The PCC I think works great; it works really, really well for the regional press.
‘I think that there’s a natural suspicion that the PCC is not fit for purpose because of things like phone-hacking.
‘We have a very responsible regional press and I think if you ask Joe and Jane public they’ll say yes, I got what I wanted from the PCC by and large.”