Careful, they haven't gone away y'know

We can surely dismiss any thought that, when a complaint against the News of the World lands on the desk of the director of the Press Complaints Commission, his friendship with its editor could affect his handling of the case.

And we can surely dismiss any thought that Rebekah Wade might look for special treatment from Guy Black, who made the big speech at her post-wedding party, an honour he could have been forgiven for sidestepping in the light of unfavourable earlier publicity attaching to his playing host to the editor and her partner at a Tuscan holiday villa.

Nevertheless, the point remains: could a complainant reasonably be expected to dismiss any such thoughts?

Perception, public and political, is everything when it comes to the credibility of self-regulatory bodies. The old Press Council could not survive the perception that it was failing both public and press. It is a perception that its more successful successor has striven to avoid.

But Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore has already voiced concern about informal social contact between the PCC and serial defendants. And Simon Kelner of The Independent has deplored PCC cosiness with serial complainants such as No.10 and St James’s Palace.Ê The enemies of press self-regulation haven’t gone away, y’know. They will be lying in wait when the new PCC chairman, Sir Christopher Meyer, lately Our Man inÊWashington, becomes Our Man in Salisbury Square.

Those folks have merely shifted from the Opposition benches to the Government benches. There, fear of a largely hostile media is now such that the Prime Minister has embarked on a strategy of broadcast press conferences to relay his message over the heads of journalists into the living rooms of the nation.

Nor have critics in the Government party abandoned their argument that the newspaper and magazine industry answers for its ethics only to a body founded and funded (£1á4m last year) by the newspaper and magazine industry.

Now that TV and radio are to be regulated by a statutory Ofcom, we need to batten down the hatches against any campaign for Ofcom to embrace the printed press. It will not be enough to chorus, Ofshove! We shall need the judicial detachment of the PCC not only to be beyond question but to be seen to be beyond question

Sir Christopher’s task will be to reassure politicians and public. And the press too.

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