Survey: Public favour independent, investigative regulator

The general public favour a self-regulatory body independent of the newspaper industry to oversee complaints about breaches to an established code of practice, a survey has claimed.

The poll found that 52 per cent of those asked “who do you consider to be the best body to oversee this [newspaper’s] code of practice?” believed in an independent self-regulatory body was the best option.

Responding to the question “what would you expect the chief purpose of an independent self-regulatory body to be?” just 12 per cent felt it should be to mediate complaints about news articles while 73 per cent believed its purpose should be to monitor compliance and conduct investigations.

The results tally with the views of Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger who, in November, called for reform of the current self-regulatory body, the Press Complaints Commission, to enhance the powers of the “weak” regulator and to establish some form of investigatory mechanism.

A regulatory body set up by the British government was favoured by 17 per cent of respondents to the Ipsos-MORI poll.

Just eight per cent of respondents favoured a body set up and run by the newspaper industry, the survey found.

Under the current system, the PCC is funded by the Press Standards Board of Finance (Pressbof) which raises a levy from the newspaper and magazine industries.

The PCC claims this system “ensures secure financial support for the PCC in a way that underpins its independence” as it is not directly responsible for obtaining funds.

The Media Standards Trust, which commissioned the survey, claims the current system of self-regulation amounts to a “newspaper industry complaints body” and that its survey showed public expectations of independent press self-regulation “far exceed the role, responsibilities and resources of the PCC”.

The Trust also claimed its research showed a “strong public support for reform of the PCC”.

The survey also found that 48 per cent of the public thought the press watchdog should be obligated to investigate where there was evidence of inaccuracy in newspapers – with just five per cent thinking it should first wait for a complaint.

Other findings suggest the public appetite was for any self-regulatory body to represent the interest of the general public as well as the complainant. In addition, 85 per cent of respondents suggested it would be appropriate to impose fines on newspapers in serious cases.

Martin Moore, director of the Media Standards Trust, said: “This research shows there is a significant gap between public expectations of press self-regulation and what the current system can, and does, provide.

“It is critical that the PCC’s current governance review works out how best to meet this challenge.”

Baroness Peta Buscombe commissioned a root and branch governance review of the PCC after she took over as chairman of the press watchdog last year.

The review, which is being conducted by former PCC board member Vivien Hepworth, reaches the end of its public consultation phase on Monday.

A PCC spokesman told Press Gazette the press watchdog would welcome any submission from the Trust to its review.

He added: “I might point out that most of the results in what is quite a simplistic poll actually support the PCC’s present role as an independent self-regulator, raising press standards through thorough enforcement of the code and acting in the public interest.

“We are not complacent, however, and the recommendations of the independent governance review will hopefully enable us to improve our service further.”

The Trust said the PCC review is a “significant opportunity for the press to reach a consensus on reform” and that it intended to make a series of recommendations for reform of the PCC based its own review of press-self governance, of which Ipsos-MORI survey forms a part.

The first part of the Trust’s review was published in 2009 and was dismissed by then PCC chairman, Sir Christopher Meyer, as a “cuttings job masquerading as a serious inquiry” after the review labelled the PCC “unaccountable and opaque”.

The Ipsos-MORI survey was conducted by in January with 980 individuals taking part.

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