This isn’t the first time that Richard Desmond has thrown his toys out of the pram with the Press Complaints Commission.
But I realised his decision to remove himself from the system of self regulation was serious after the flurry of press releases which followed the news on Monday.
The PPA, NPA, Newspaper Society and Society of Editors all fell over themselves to assert their commitment to the future of self regulation. Was that future in question? Evidently, yes.
The problem is that Desmond isn’t just quibbling over the money he pays to the PCC on behalf of the Express and Star national newspaper titles, and his stable of showbiz magazines. His problem is with the PCC full stop.
Insiders brief that Desmond simply doesn’t feel that he needs to be part of the PCC ‘club’. Northern and Shell employs a team of lawyers, so he doesn’t see the point of adding another stage to the process by involving the PCC.
Self-regulation only works because everyone abides by it and agrees too play by the same rules – so Desmond’s decision to eject himself from it is a major problem. And it rather exposes the fact that there now appears to be no censure that the industry can apply to its rogue publisher.
As Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt noted yesterday, it also raises the prospect of statutory regulation – because there must be some way of dealing with press mistakes and excesses which aren’t legally actionable.
No proprietor wants more state controls on journalism. The £2m a year running costs of the PCC amount to very little when split up among the UK’s thousands of print titles. So what is Desmond playing at?
My hunch is that he is goading the other proprietors in order to exact some future concession. What could that be? Well if Rupert Murdoch succeeds in buying the proportion of BSkyB that he doesn’t already own, selling some of his print media titles could be the price he has to pay to preserve UK media plurality. Could Desmond be seeking to strengthen his hand with the other proprietors when it comes to a carve up of Murdoch assets?