Shut up and take your medicine'

PCC chairman Sir Christopher Meyer delivers the annual SoE lecture at St Bride’s Church in Fleet Street

Press Complaints Commission chairman Sir Christopher Meyer told editors they “must take their medicine” and not complain when adjudications went against them.

He said the right time for newspapers to engage in extensive debate was when complaints were being investigated – not after the PCC had reached its conclusion.

Meyer argued that the debate should stop once the commission had confirmed its judgement and reached a conclusion. “If the edifice of selfregulation is to survive, at that point the newspaper must take its medicine,” he said.

Meyer was speaking after giving the Society of Editors annual lecture at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street. In the lecture he called for “industry solidarity” in supporting self-regulation and warned against “toxic internecine warfare” among different newspaper sectors.

His call followed the summer row when the editors of The Guardian, The Independent, The Times and The Daily Telegraph openly criticised the PCC for upholding a complaint against The Guardian for paying a fellow prison inmate of Lord Archer for his story.

Meyer, who has been touring the regions, spoke of the support for the PCC among editors and publishers outside London. “I take this to be the authentic voice and commitment of the newspaper industry. It contrasts with the views of some inside the M25, whose proximity to Salisbury Square [home of the PCC] seems to be in inverse proportion to their understanding of the PCC’s work and adjudications.

“The commission, though independent from the industry, can only function with full effectiveness if there is industry solidarity behind our system of self-regulation.

Internal corrosion is as deadly as external threats.”

Meyer added: “People tend to stick together when the going gets rough.

But once the threat is removed, old rivalries resurface. The newspaper industry is no different. Whenever the omens are bad – Calcutt, the aftermath of Diana’s death, legislative battles over data protection and human rights – the industry tends to rally behind self-regulation and the PCC. Remove those threats and the olidarity can go wobbly. I have seen a few symptoms on my watch. I remember Abraham Lincoln’s dictum: ‘a house divided against itself cannot stand.’ If that were to happen to the edifice of self-regulation, we would all be the losers – but none more so than the thousands who use the PCC’s services and could not give a fig for the obsessions of the metropolitan chattering class. Healthy, vibrant competition between publications is one thing; toxic, internecine warfare another. And it is toxic when the industry finds itself unable to unite around such basic issues as press freedom and self-regulation.”

By Jon Slattery

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