The Press Complaints Commission and the Society of Editors have condemned a report by a journalism charity that described self-regulation as “unaccountable and opaque”.
The Media Standards Trust warned today that newspaper self-regulation was failing to protect the public and the Press Complaints Commission risks becoming “irrelevant”.
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The review of the self-regulatory system was led by a panel of 12 journalists and legal experts, including Independent editor-in-chief Simon Kelner and Financial Times deputy editor Martin Dickson.
They commissioned a YouGov survey of 2,024 adults which found that although 92 per cent of respondents had heard of the PCC, only a fifth knew more than “a little” about what it did.
The survey also found a “chronic lack of trust” in national newspaper journalism – and support for Government intervention in the regulation of the press.
Three quarters of respondents believed that newspapers “frequently publish stories they know are inaccurate”. Seventy per cent said there were far too many instances of people’s privacy being invaded by newspaper journalists.
Some 60 per cent of respondents said the Government should do more to prevent reporters intruding on people’s private lives, and 73 per cent said the Government should do more to ensure that newspapers correct inaccurate stories.
“The current system of press self-regulation is not successfully protecting either the press or the public,” the report said.
“Public trust in the press has fallen below the level necessary for it to perform its proper role in a democratic society.
“Without prompt and meaningful action, there is a real danger that the current system will become increasingly irrelevant.”
The outgoing Press Complaints Commission chairman, Sir Christopher Meyer, described the Trust’s report as a “job from the cuttings masquerading as a serious inquiry”.
“Beneath the rather self-important title of Media Standards Trust, I have to say that there’s a careless and shoddy report,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“It’s full of assertions unsupported by evidence on privacy, on public confidence.
“We now have record numbers of people coming to us for advice and help. This has to be seen as a vote of confidence in our ability to remedy complaints.”
Bob Satchwell, director of the Society Editors, said the Media Standards Trust report would have fallen foul of the editors’ code if it had been produced by a newspaper.
“I understand they did not consult the PCC neither did they consult the Society of Editors. It is usual practice to put such strong allegations to those criticised before publishing,” he told BBC Radio FiveLive.
“It is perhaps fortunate for the Media Standards Trust that they do not come under the ambit of the PCC.
“If it did, this report would fall at the first clause of the Editors’ Code of Practice concerning accuracy because it fails to distinguish between comment, conjecture and fact.”
Satchwell added that his experience of the PCC was that it had led to a ‘dramatic change’in the behaviour of the press over the past 15 years.
“The report also accuses the PCC of being in some kind of disarray, because the number of complaints is going up,” he said.
“In fact the number of complaints going up reflects the fact that the public now knows more about it.”
The Media Standards Trust report found that newspapers generally did little to publicise the work of the PCC, and the organisation itself spends no money on advertising.
It also found that the PCC’s funding had fallen in real terms. In 2007, the group received a £1.82m income. When it was set up in 1991, its budget was £1.5m. Now, accounting for inflation, it should be more than £2.4m.
The Trust report also said that, because the PCC acted primarily as a complaints body, it was not acting as a champion for press freedom as a whole.
“There is no credible body that defends press freedom,” it said. “The PCC is not constitutionally empowered to perform such a role. No alternative currently exists.”
Meyer is stepping down from the PCC at the end of March. His replacement is Peta Buscombe, the Advertising Association chief executive.
The Commons media select committee is currently carrying out an investigation into press standards, including the future of self-regulation and libel law.