Tag Archives: Baroness Buscombe

MeejaLaw: Outgoing PCC chair takes a swipe at the Guardian

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.

‘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.”

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…

Press Complaints Commission to join Twitter; wants to explore social network debate

While the Press Complaints Commission has had limited contact with social networks directly, it’s an area the industry self-regulatory body wants to look at in further depth, the new director of the PCC Stephen Abell has said.

The PCC is soon to join Twitter, and will be taking part in an event about the media’s use of social networks organised by the think-tank Polis (more details when announced) Abell told Journalism.co.uk, in his first media interview since taking over the role from Tim Toulmin.

[Update: it has joined and made its first tweet: from @UKPCC)

“Newspapers use it [social networking] a lot and it’s a legitimate resource, but it’s certainly not a free for all.”

It’s for the PCC to offer guidance and explore the area, he said. But where does the PCC fit into this exactly? Is the self-regulatory body there to explain the dangers of social networks to the general public? “I think the PCC’s role is for people to understand their right in regards to what the media might do,” he said.

How far should newspapers go with their use of social networks? As Abell was keen to point out, the PCC recently upheld a complaint against the Sunday Times for one of its journalist’s “intrusive” use of Facebook. Users can control what is private and public with different settings, he says, but added that maybe people don’t know enough about “marshalling” their accounts.

But how about if a journalist ‘befriended’ a subject to gain access to private information, and a complaint was later made by that user? It would “raise an issue about a journalist of how honest they have been,” he said. “I think that would depend on the individual case.”

“There’s a function for us there – certainly to train journalists,” he said. “We go into a newspaper and say these are the last decisions we made [on social networking].”

Abell claimed that the presence of 10 lay members on the commission – “with a broad range of experience” – helped the Commission keep up to date with social media trends: “they can reflect changes in cultural expectations”.

With the PCC’s move into this area, it will be interesting to see whether newspapers will face sanctions for the way they use social network information: could they be penalised for presenting information out of context?

A blogger in Ireland, for example, has been in contact with the Irish Ombudsman over an article in the Irish Mail on Sunday which lifted material from her blog. The Mail has defended its actions in a lengthy statement, but bloggers and commenters remain angry about the way the blogger was portrayed in the article. How would the PCC act in a situation like this? Abell agrees that context is a key issue, and complaints over social network use could be made on the grounds of both privacy and accuracy.

“Indeed the internet is itself a very self-regulatory body”
Although the PCC seems to be increasingly engaging with online content, comments by its chair, Baroness Buscombe, to the Independent newspaper, taken to mean that bloggers might come under within the PCC’s remit, did not go down well with many high profile bloggers.

“Frankly, we do not feel that the further development of blogging as an interactive medium that facilitates the free exchange of ideas and opinions will benefit from regulation by a body representing an industry with, in the main, substantially lower ethical standards and practices than those already practiced by the vast majority of established British bloggers,” wrote Liberal Conspiracy and Guardian.co.uk blogger Sunny Hundel at the time.

On this subject, Abell claims that Buscombe’s comments were misinterpreted (as she did herself): “I think the point Peta was really making with bloggers, is that she was talking in the context of a speech she was making, talking of the dangers, or the impracticability of top-down regulation – in a world where everyone is a publisher.

“There’s an argument that any form of the internet is going to be about self-regulation – people voluntarily adhering to a set of standards. That might not be anything to do with the PCC at all, but self-regulation fits the internet very well.

“And indeed the internet is itself a very self-regulatory body and blogs tend to work by someone making a proposition and someone challenging it via comments: that can correct any misapprehensions in the beginning and create a dialogue.

“The way it works with newspapers is a useful model I think. Newspapers are voluntarily buying into the PCC (…) a set of standards they are voluntarily adhering to.”

It seems that the point that Abell is making is that both bloggers and newspapers self-regulate, and don’t need statutory control; bloggers could have their own code, even. But bloggers under the PCC? He won’t even go there:

“I think the point about blogging and regulation … it’s far too early … I’m not even saying it [independent blogging] should be connected to the PCC.”

Stephen Abell discusses phone hacking, superinjunctions and forthcoming reports with Journalism.co.uk here