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Meyer slams Media Standards Trust report – it’s ‘statistics of the madhouse’

February 9th, 2009Posted by in Journalism, Press freedom and ethics

Speaking on the Radio 4 Today programme, chair of the Press Complaints Commission [PCC], Sir Christopher Meyer, has disputed the Media Standards Trust’s new published research, labelling it a  ‘shoddy report’. (Click through end link for full transcript)

The report has found that the PCC [as reported in Guardian, for example] lacks transparency and ‘commercially significant sanctions’.

Interviewed this morning, Sir Christopher Meyer defended the work of the PCC: ‘the way we organise ourselves is transparent,’ he said.

“They [the MST] don’t come to PCC and they don’t take evidence directly,” Meyer said.

Sir David Bell, who chairs the MST, said “We are more expert on their website than they [PCC] are themselves.”

Bell said the MST will consult the PCC in the second stage of the research.

“There’s a revolution going on in newspapers, the PCC needs to be reformed,” Bell added.

Meyer labelled the report’s findings as ‘statistics of the madhouse’. “We now have record numbers of people coming for advice,” Meyer said. “This has to be seen as a vote of confidence,” he said.

Full audio linked here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_7878000/7878472.stm

0845 (Today Programme) from the website:
“Newspapers are regulated by the Press Complaints Commission, a body set up and run by the papers themselves. A report by the Media Standards Trust, an independent charity, says existing press self-regulation is not working. Sir David Bell, chairman of the trust, and Sir Christopher Meyer, chairman of the PCC, discuss the report.”

Full transcript below:
BBC Radio 4: Today programme
09.02.09

John Humphrys: Newspapers are regulated by the Press Complaints Commission, a body set up and run effectively by the papers themselves; it’s called self-regulation, and it’s not working – that is according to the Media Standards Trust, an independent  charity chaired by Sir David Bell who’s Chairman of the Financial Times. He’s with me. We’re also joined by the Chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, Sir Christopher Meyer. Sir David, what is wrong with the job that the PCC, the Press Complaints Commission does?

Sir David Bell: Well, what it does, so far as it does it, is fine. But we think that there is a revolution going on in the media, and that the Press Complaints Commission is no longer fit for purpose. It isn’t sufficiently transparent; it isn’t sufficiently accountable; it doesn’t deal with as many complaints as it could; it’s not widely known even that it exists, and we think therefore that we need to look again at the whole basis of regulating newspapers, because the level of public dissatisfaction with newspapers has been rising really quite dramatically, every poll shows that, and unless the industry if you like reforms itself, there’s a great risk that the government will step in, and we are absolutely opposed to government regulation of newspapers.

JH: Right, Christopher Meyer, deal with those criticisms first, not accountable etc.

Sir Christopher Meyer: Well the first thing I need to say is beneath the rather self-important title of the Media Standards Trust and the gleaming array of the great and the good who sit on its board, I have to say that there is a careless and shoddy report. It’s full of assertions unsupported by the evidence, on privacy, on public confidence, on transparency…

JH: Well, let’s deal with the criticisms that Sir David made first.

CM: Yeah, I’ve got a whole bunch of stuff to say stuff to refute it, but okay.

JH: Well go on, you’re not accountable, we don’t know about you?

CM: Let me put it this way. Go on to our website – look at the bit that says ‘governance and accountability’ and you will see that we are scrutinised by an independent Charter Commissioner, an independent Charter Compliance Panel, and all the way in which we organise ourselves is absolutely transparent. Those two bodies that I’ve just mentioned publish reports every year – I don’t bowdlerise them; I don’t censor them, and you will find on our website how people complain about how we deal with their complaint;  you will see the Commissioners’ Register of Interests, you’ll see the panoply of committees that form the self-regulatory system; you will see our Articles of Association; you will see our Complainants’ Charter.

It is all there – and let me say, let me add one point. If this Trust had made the attempt to come to the PCC, take evidence from me, take evidence from my colleagues, they might have found this. The trouble is, unlike Parliamentary Committees, in particular the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, they don’t come to the PCC and they don’t take evidence directly. Without that, this report […] is in effect a kind of scissors and paste job from the cuttings masquerading as a serious inquiry.

JH: Alright. Sir David?

DB: Well, I have great respect for Sir Christopher but I think he’s wrong in almost every respect as far as that’s concerned.

JH: Well you didn’t talk to them?

DB: Er, we are more expert on their website than they are themselves.

JH: But you didn’t go and talk to them?

DB: But we didn’t go and talk to them but we have talked to several of the past and present people on the Commission

JH: Why didn’t you talk to the present?

DB: Because that is what we are going to do in the second stage of our report

CM: that is an absolute outrage! This report has been put out, it is one of the leading items on the Today programme, it can affect people who might otherwise want to come to the PCC for remedies, and you’re telling me that at the second stage and only then will you come and take evidence directly from the body which you’re criticising. This is not good practice.

JH: Hang on, let him deal with that?

DB: I think this report is extremely thorough. The National Consumer Council, when it looks at regulatory bodies, has 15 standards by which it judges regulatory bodies. As far as we can see, the Press Complaints Commission fails on twelve of them. That’s not our data, that’s their data. […] The data about the quality of the public attitude towards the press is irrefutable. Now, we are not saying that the Press Complaints Commission in dealing with individual complaints is anything other than very good. What we’re saying is that there’s a revolution going on in newspapers and that the Press Complaints Commission and the way it operates has not kept up with it, and it needs to be reformed.

JKH: And the reality is, I don’t know whether you’d accept this or not, Sir Christopher, which is that trust in the press, in the middle-market press particularly as I understand it, is falling.

CM: Well let’s, we need to distinguish between two things here: I am speaking for the self-regulatory system and for the Press Complaints Commission. I am not a spokesman for the newspaper and magazine industry of the United Kingdom.

JH: No, but the argument is that if you were doing your job properly then…

CM: No, but I must make that clear, and if we’re going to talk about public confidence, what we have to look at is confidence in the PCC as opposed to journalism, and we now have record numbers of people coming to us for advice and for help, the numbers have doubled I think since when I first became Chairman in 2003, and this has to be seen as a vote of confidence in our ability to remedy complaints.

JH: Is it right that you uphold only 1 in 250 complaints?

CM: This is the statistics of the madhouse! On balance, we will say that about half of all our rulings, which comprise one third of all complaints in any given year, will result in a ‘no breach’. But this 250 to 1 figure, God only knows where it comes from. And it is the statistics of the madhouse!

DB: It comes from your website. It comes from an analysis of your numbers produced on your annual report and on your website, and I think as you well know, Sir Christopher…

CM: Well your analysis is completely nonsense. He’s got it completely wrong!

JH: I would love to be able to pursue that but I’m afraid we can’t. Thank you both very much, maybe the next…

CM: By the way we’re handling a complaint against the Financial Times which I think Sir David should take a personal interest in and I would be grateful if he would cal me after this programme.

JH: Alright, well I’m sure he will. Sir David Bell and Sir Christopher Meyer, thank you both very much.

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