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PCC seeks ideas from Irish press regulatory system

 

The Press Complaints Commission is looking at the Irish press watchdog system as a possible option for reforming the UK self-regulatory approach, according to reports.

Press Council of Ireland chairman Dáithí O’Ceallaigh is quoted by the Irish Times as saying the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, Lord Hunt, and other senior PCC officials have visited Dublin for a “lengthy meeting” to look at how the Irish press regulatory system works.

The Press Council is part of a two-tier approach introduced in Ireland in 2008. Complaints are first referred to a separate Press Ombudsman, who tries to deal with them through conciliation.

If a resolution cannot be achieved, the ombudsman can make a ruling based on a code of practice and can refer significant complaints to the 13-strong Press Council, which runs independently of government and media.

Mr O’Ceallaigh said:

The fact that they came here at all, and those discussions, reflect the fact that Leveson himself and a number of the witnesses at the inquiry in Britain have already publicly expressed their interest in the origins, the structure and the functions of the Press Council and the Press Ombudsman in Ireland.

Meanwhile, Lord Justice Leveson gave a strong hint yesterday afternoon about the regulatory structure he could recommend when his report comes out later this year.

He discussed allowing group complaints and introducing a “swift” system for dealing with privacy and libel issues without lawyers. Leveson also suggested that an ombudsman could give guidance on whether a newspaper needs to notify the subject of a story before publication.

He said yesterday:

Whatever comes out of this must be independent of government, independent of the state, independent of parliament but independent of the press. It has to have expertise on it or available to it, but must command the respect of the press but equally the respect of the public.

It seems to me that it can do lots of different things. I would like to think about a system that provides redress particularly to those who can’t afford to litigate.

At the moment, the PCC doesn’t take group complaints. So, for example – and I had a number of people giving evidence from, for example, the transgender community and other groups, who say, ‘Well, because there’s no name in this, there’s nobody to complain, and therefore there is no mechanism to obtain redress for them.’

Leveson also said there needed to be “some sort of mechanism to resolve disputes. So that can be consensual, the complaint-solving thing, but a mechanism in the absence of consensual resolution”.

I equally understand that there is an argument that in some circumstances requiring prior notification would lead to litigation and would kill the story. So there has to be some way of drawing a line.

One possibility might be to say there is some mechanism within the regulatory regime that allows the press to say: ‘Look, we have this story, we don’t feel we ought to notify the subject of it for these reasons: he’ll destroy the evidence’, or whatever and to get a view.

If either he doesn’t ask or alternatively he does ask and gets the answer: ‘No, we think you ought to notify’, then again, that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t publish, it’s up to him, but then perhaps there should be a potential regime for exemplary damages. I’m just throwing out ideas.

But then I have another mechanism for swift resolution of privacy, small libel-type issues. Not the enormous stuff, perhaps an inquisitorial regime which can be done without lawyers, but some mechanism for members of the public to be able to challenge decisions and get a swift response.

On top of all that, one has to have a mechanism that means that sanctions work. I recognise entirely the parlous financial position of much of the press, but it’s important that sanctions are taken seriously.

Leveson added:

When I said to [Jeremy] Paxman that I didn’t want my report to end up on the second shelf of a professor of journalism’s study as yet another failed attempt, his only comment was to say: ‘As high as the second shelf?’

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Newspapers and PCC deny Baroness Buscombe claims

February 7th, 2012 | No Comments | Posted by in Journalism

Three newspaper publishers have denied a claim by Baroness Buscombe (pictured) that they threatened to quit the organisation because of negative adjudication recently.

Responding to Robert Jay QC at the Leveson inquiry today, who said: “I think a number of editors threatened to leave the PCC”, Buscombe replied: “Yes, the FT, the Guardian, the Mirror.”

Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger tweeted:

The Mirror said:

The Financial Times added:

The PCC said: “Baroness Buscombe was giving a personal recollection of her conversations and experiences whilst at the PCC, during her evidence at the Leveson Inquiry this morning. The PCC has not received any formal proposals from these publishers to withdraw from the system in recent years.”

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MeejaLaw: Outgoing PCC chair takes a swipe at the Guardian

October 13th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Journalism, Newspapers

Baroness Buscombe, outgoing chair of the Press Complaints Commission, singled out the Guardian during a talk at City University last night, accusing the paper of misquoting her “non-stop” for three years.

Responding to a question from Guardian data journalist James Ball about her comments on enforced regulation compliance, Buscombe demanded to know what he was going to tweet and repeatedly said “Have you got that Guardian?”

See a full report from media law blogger Judith Townend on Meeja Law at this link.

And a report from Jon Slattery here.

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Martin Moore: seven models for reform of self-regulation

Revelations about the extent of the phone-hacking scandal have fuelled discussion about the state of self-regulation and possible reform. Martin Moore, director of the Media Standards Trust, has created a thought-provoking list of seven possible ways in which the system might be reformed, from scrapping regulation altogether to full statutory regulation. Moore has weighed up some of the pros and cons of each idea and intends for them to serve as a framework for discussion of the issue.

The list:

1. Abolish the PCC, without setting up a replacement
2. Reform the existing PCC
3. Create an independent regulator
4. Extend a watered down Ofcom to cover all major media organisations
5. Create a professional body for journalists
6. Withdraw all media regulation, but reform, extend, reduce and clarify existing media law
7. Create a new statutory regulator for all media

See Moore’s post on the MST website for his introduction and the full reasoning behind each idea.

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PCC rejects ‘not a regulator’ claim

August 25th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Journalism, Newspapers

The Press Complaints Commission has responded to an article published yesterday which claimed that the body was just a mediator and not a regulator. The piece, by Brunel University’s professor of screen media and journalism Julian Petley and published on the New Left Project site, calls the PCC “merely a body which deals with complaints about the press, the equivalent of the customer services department of any large corporate organisation”.

As the PCC misses no opportunity to remind us, it regards what it calls self regulation as preferable to any other kind of regulation, especially statutory regulation. As the Commission is financed by the very publications which it is supposed to be regulating, this is hardly surprising. However, the PCC cannot with justification present itself as a regulator given that (a) it was not established as a regulator and consequently (b) nothing in its Articles of Association suggest that it is meant to perform a regulatory function.

Read Petley’s full article at this link.

PCC director of communications Jonathan Collett responded to the piece today, rejecting the idea that the body is merely a mediator and not a regulator. Collett calls the New Left Project article a “lively read” but claims it is “undermined by being based on several false premises”.

Julian Petley is obviously wrong to try to characterise the PCC as merely a mediator and not a regulator. He is wrong to suggest there is nothing in the PCC’s Articles of Association to suggest it performs a regulatory function when those articles actually specifically state that the PCC has responsibility to: “consider and pronounce on issues relating to the Code of Practice which the Commission, in its absolute discretion considers to be in the public interest”.

Read Collett’s full response at this link.

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Financial Times: PCC chief demands meetings with national newspaper publishers

The Financial Times reports this morning that the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, Lady Buscombe, has demanded individual meetings with every publisher of national newspapers in the UK, including the Financial Times itself.

The face-to-face meetings are in an attempt to seek reassurance “that ethical scandals which have afflicted the industry will not be repeated”, according to the FT.

In an interview to coincide with publication of the PCC’s annual review, Lady Buscombe told the FT that “trust in the system was of paramount importance” after it had been undermined by scandals involving phone-hacking and other illegal journalistic methods. Trust was “one of the most important principles” of self-regulation, she said, adding: “If we are going to have trust in the system, I need [the publishers'] assurance that, whether it’s phone-hacking or any activities like that, it will never happen again.”

See the full FT report here… (may require registration)

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Rusbridger: ‘If we want a PCC that is effective we will all have to pay more’

Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger, who has been and remains a vocal critic of the Press Complaints Commission, argued last night that the regulatory body should be supported and improved, not scrapped, and said the press will need to pay more to if it wants an effective regulator.

Delivering the Anthony Sampson lecture at City University London, Rusbridger, who resigned from the PCC code committee in November 2009, did not let up in his customary criticism of the body, calling it “ineffective” and its 2009 report into phone-hacking at the News of the World “utterly feeble”.

“How, MPs reasonably ask, can we as an industry argue that self-regulation works when it evidently failed quite spectacularly over phone hacking?”, he asked.

In March last year, speaking at a debate on self-regulation in the House of Lords, Rusbridger suggested the PCC might be “flying the wrong flag [and might be] better to rebrand itself as a media complaints and conciliation service and forget about regulation”.

But he argued last night that self-regulation remains preferable to statutory regulation, and called for the PCC to take a tougher stance on issues such as phone hacking.

He asked why it hadn’t written directly to News International over Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator at the heart of the phone-hacking scandal, to ask “why are you paying fees of someone likely to be involved in illegal activity?”.

The PCC, he said, needed to “do something which showed a vertabrae”.

I can’t imagine a fine than would scare News International, they’re just so big and rich. What scares them is the truth, they’re are scared of the truth coming out.

I put it to Rusbridger after the lecture that one of the things required to strengthen the regulator and allow it to undertake proper investigations would be better funding, and asked if, alongside his criticism of the body and calls for it to be improved, the Guardian should lead the way in making a greater financial contribution.

It’s difficult, it’s not lavishly funded and it’s clearly not set up to do something like a big investigation into phone hacking. I think if we want the kind of PCC that’s going to be effective we are all going to have to pay more. But that’s a pretty tough message if you work on the Yorkshire Post or the East Anglian Daily Times. Why should you pay more when by and large you’re not doing things that are going to require fantastically expensive investigation?

He acknowledged that the PCC did not have the funds to undertake thorough investigations, investigations “with teeth”, and said the press would have “to be a bit more creative about the way that we fund the PCC”.

It can’t just stagger on as it is, being completely ineffective because they shrug they’re shoulders and say ‘we haven’t got the power and we haven’t got the money’.

See Rusbridger’s full lecture at this link.

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MediaGuardian: PCC to regulate press Twitter feeds

Guardian media and technology editor Dan Sabbagh reports this afternoon that reporters’ and newspapers’ Twitter feeds are expected to brought under the regulation of the Press Complaints Commission later this year.

According to Sabbagh’s report, Twitter accounts that include the names of publications and are clearly “official” – he cites @telegraphnews and @thesun_bizarre as examples – are likely to come under regulation, but reporters’ individual work accounts could also be brought under the commissions’ ambit.

The PCC believes that some postings on Twitter are, in effect part of a “newspaper’s editorial product”, writings that its code of practice would otherwise cover if the same text appeared in print or on a newspaper website.

A change in the code would circumvent a loophole that – in theory – means that there is no form of redress via the PCC if somebody wanted to complain about an alleged inaccuracy in a statement that was tweeted. Last year the PCC found it was unable to rule in a complaint made against tweets published by the Brighton Argus.

Full post on MediaGuardian at this link.

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‘Questions need answers’ from NotW, says PCC chair

The chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, Baroness Peta Buscombe, has said there are “serious questions which need answers” by News International after “their own internal inquiries were not robust”.

In a letter to a lawyer who successfully sued her for libel in relation to the phone-hacking investigation, the chairman condemns all those at the News of the World who have been involved in hacking.

The chairman yesterday wrote to Mark Lewis, a lawyer for some of the celebrities and public figures who believe they are victims of hacking, stating that the committee set up by the PCC to review phone hacking is robust.

Giving evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport committee last year, Lewis said he was told by DS Mark Maberly, a Metropolitan police officer, that 6,000 people may have had their phones hacked by the News of the World.

Buscombe later said in a speech at the Society of Editors conference that Lewis had misquoted Maberly, prompting the libel claim which saw the chairman publicly apologise in the High Court and pay damages to Lewis.

Lewis, of  Taylor Hampton Solicitors, wrote to Baroness Buscombe earlier this week and she has now responded.

“Let me be clear about my position on phone hacking, which has been consistent throughout.

“It is a deplorable practice, and an unjustifiable intrusion into an individual’s privacy,” she said in the letter.

“The commission has always said that it is a breach of the Editors’ Code.

“As I said to the Independent in February this year, it brings shame upon the whole journalistic profession. I condemn all those at the News of the World who have been involved in it.”

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PCC chair addresses issue of privacy in online media

The Press Complaints Commission is best placed to regulate the press in relation to privacy and online media, chairman Baroness Buscombe said today.

Speaking at the Westminster Media Forum Buscombe said:

Regulating online content is challenging. Let me pose the difficult question: what does privacy mean in an online world? There is an argument – with which Mark Zuckerberg might agree – that it means hardly anything at all these days. People have adopted a public persona online; they have developed a culture of information exchange such that privacy will lapse as a “social norm”.

Perhaps. But that doesn’t quite ring true to me.

An opposing argument would be that the online world gives people the chance actually better to define what they wish to be private: via privacy settings on Facebook, say, they can make clear to the world what information is for public consumption, and what they wish to restrict to a smaller audience.

In truth, there will be no clear answer. People will use social media in different ways, and with clear differences in their level of understanding of the implications of their actions.

What is clear is that journalists – both print and broadcast – now have the outpourings of non-journalists as a resource of information. And it is important that there are ethical guidelines about how to use that information. We believe at the PCC that we are able to provide them. We believe that a voluntary Code, reinforced by practical guidance from case law, is a model for maintaining standards in this area.

The PCC chairman cited examples of photographs and information taken from Facebook and Twitter and used in the press, reminding the audience of the PCC’s five key tests when it comes to using material gained via social media.

  • First, what is the quality of the information? How private is it in itself?
  • Second, what is the context of the information? Material that has been uploaded as a joke between friends, for example, may not be suitable for journalistic use in a story about a tragedy.
  • Who uploaded the material, or consented for it to be uploaded?
  • How widely available is the material online; or, to put it another way, what privacy restrictions were placed on it?
  • And finally what is the public interest in publication?

The full speech is available at this link…

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