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Independent: PCC would act on ‘a whiff’ of new phone hacking

May 7th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Journalism

“In the advertising world I never felt this beating up of the regulator that I have felt here,” chairwoman of the Press Complaints Commission and former chief executive of the Advertising Association Peta Buscombe tells the Independent.

In the interview, Buscombe explains the PCC’s role in the inquiries into allegations of phone hacking at News of the World, for which the commission was criticised by Guardian reporter Nick Davies and the Media Standards Trust:

“One of the lessons is that we have to be crystal clear in the way we explain our remit. There was an expectation that we would be able to do more than we felt able to do at the time,” she says. “I can tell you now that if we got a whiff that it was happening again, we would act, there’s no question about this.”

Buscombe also says she’d like Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, to return to the code committee, from which he resigned in November.

Full interview at this link…

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Solicitor Mark Lewis considering legal action against PCC

February 24th, 2010 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Journalism, Legal

Mark Lewis, the solicitor who represented the head of the Professional Footballers Association, Gordon Taylor, in the News International phone hacking case, is considering taking legal action against the Metropolitan Police, the Press Complaints Commission and its chair Peta Buscombe.

In a unexpected addition to her speech at the Society of Editors conference last year, Buscombe cited police claims that Lewis’ evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport select committee was false [also see today’s main news story here]. Lewis, giving evidence to the committee’s inquiry into allegations of widespread phone hacking at News of the World, said detective sergeant Maberly had told him there were 6,000 people  affected by phone hacking – but he was not clear if this was the number of phones, or whether it included the people who left messages on hacked phones.

Following Buscombe’s claims about his evidence, Lewis complained through numerous letters to the PCC. Lewis told Journalism.co.uk at yesterday’s CMS press briefing that his complaint with the PCC and the Met “was not over by a long shot yet” and that he may pursue legal action against both organisations.

When Journalism.co.uk previously contacted the PCC over Lewis’ complaints, the Commission did not wish to comment.

As reported by the Independent on Sunday, Lewis has asked for the police inquiry into phone hacking to be re-opened, headed by someone other than assistant commissioner John Yates – whose phone hacking evidence was today criticised by the CMS committee in its press standards, privacy and libel report.

Full coverage of the CMS report at this link…

The report in full and our page-by-page guide at this link…

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Will inquiries find PCC a chocolate teapot, or a serious ‘mediator’?

November 18th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Comment, Press freedom and ethics

The Press Complaints Commission enjoyed mainstream coverage this week, as newspaper titles lapped up the comments of the body’s chair, Lady Peta Buscombe, at the Society of Editors’ conference: she not only called for greater press support, but cited evidence allegedly showing that 6,000 attempted phone hackings were ‘wrongly quoted’ by solicitor Mark Lewis in the House of Commons.

Funnily enough, the papers who were so eager to report Buscombe’s words, didn’t then – save the Guardian it would seem – pick up Mark Lewis’ call for Buscombe’s resignation as PCC chair. You can read Lewis’ letter, sent to Buscombe, the select committee and copied to the Press Association, in full at this link.

Lewis has since told Journalism.co.uk:

“As I said in my [House of Commons] evidence, given immediately after that of Mr Yates [Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner], it wasn’t that I had access to documents that the police did not have, I got the documents from the police. Didn’t they read them? Didn’t they understand them?”

“The PCC has shown its true colours. If there is to be non-court regulation then it has to be from an independent tribunal that is not constituted by the press. Oddly, it would work in the press’ interest if there was a body that was willing to challenge and censor the press. As I said on Monday, we need an ‘honest and free press not just a free press’.

“My next step will be to carry on in the pursuit of honesty in reporting. If you are in any doubt, look at how many newspapers chose not to run a story that there had been a demand for Lady Buscombe to resign. The newspapers reported Lady Buscombe’s speech but not my response to it.”

Then, just as QC Geoffrey Robertson had hoped when he encouraged editors to abandon the body, news broke of Alan Rusbridger’s resignation from the PCC Code Committee.

“I have enjoyed being on the Code Committee, which does very useful work. I look forward to the results of the review of the PCC which Baroness Buscombe has announced.  The PCC is a valuable mediator. It needs to ask itself whether, as presently constructed and funded, it is a very effective regulator,” was all that the Guardian editor had to say afterwards.

His comments last week, following the PCC’s less than critical findings about phone tapping activities at News of the World, were somewhat stronger:  speaking on BBC Radio 4, the Guardian editor described the PCC’s report as ‘worse than pointless’. “If you have a self-regulation system that’s finding nothing out and has no teeth, and all the work is being done by external people, it’s dangerous for self-regulation,” he said.

The PCC has not yet responded to Journalism.co.uk’s request for comment over Rusbridger’s departure, but Buscombe today appeared on Radio 4 Media Show [as noted by Jon Slattery at this link]. Rusbridger is right, she said. “We don’t have serious powers of investigation. We are not a police force. Even Ofcom doesn’t have it. A state regulator doesn’t have it. We cannot and we must not tread on the toes of the criminal justice system. We act in many ways more as a mediator, so that we actually stop and prevent harm and therefore have a very strong role in terms of pre-publication, for example,” she said.

So what’s the point of the body at all? MP Tom Watson, who sat on the House of Commons culture and media select committee for the phone hacking inquiry, thinks not much. Running the PCC like a clan has led to Rusbridger’s resignation, he said on Tuesday. “It could spell the end of self-regulation. How silly of the new chair,” he tweeted. While in favour of self-regulation, the PCC simply isn’t doing it, he later clarified in another tweet: “[I] believe in self-regulation. And I’d like to see the PCC try it some time.”

A toothless chocolate teapot as alleged by some, or is there a realistic future for the PCC? Investigations of the self-regulation body, such as the one launched by the International Federation of Journalists; the select committee’s inquiry; and the PCC’s own review (led by a former commission member) are anticipated with interest…

NB: This post was later updated with a corrected transcript from the Radio 4 Media Show (19.11.09).

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MediaGuardian: Alan Rusbridger resigns from PCC code committee

Guardian editor, Alan Rusbridger, has resigned from the Press Complaint Commission’s code committee, MediaGuardian reports.

His decision follows the PCC’s criticism of the way the Guardian had handled new allegations about past phone hacking at News of the World.

The PCC last week said it had found no new evidence further to its 2007 enquiry, a report which the Guardian, reporter Nick Davies and the Media Standards Trust strongly challenged.

On Sunday, the self-regulatory body’s chair Lady Peta Buscombe, cited police lawyers’ claims that a Metropolitan Police detective inspector had been ‘wrongly quoted’ in phone hacking evidence given to the House of Commons.

In response, the lawyer who gave the oral evidence, Mark Lewis, called for Buscombe’s resignation.

Full story at this link…

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PCC chair should resign over phone hacking evidence denial, says lawyer

November 16th, 2009 | 5 Comments | Posted by in Legal, Newspapers

Mark Lewis, the lawyer whose phone hacking evidence has been challenged by the Press Complaints Commission chair, Baroness Peta Buscombe, has called for her resignation.

A Metropolitan Police detective inspector had been wrongly quoted in phone hacking evidence given to the House of Commons, Buscombe yesterday told delegates at the Society of Editors’ annual conference.

A letter to the PCC from police lawyers claimed that only ‘a handful’ of people were targeted by News of the World, Buscombe cited, contradicting evidence given by lawyer Mark Lewis to the Commons select committee investigating media law and press regulation, in September.

As reported by Press Gazette, Buscombe said: “This letter says that [Detective Inspector] – Mr Maberly has in fact been wrongly quoted on the 6,000 figure. The reliable evidence, we were told in an email confirming the contents of the letter, is that given by assistant commissioner John Yates to the select committee, who referred to only a ‘handful’ of people being potential victims.”

Following Buscombe’s claims at the conference, Mark Lewis from Stripe Solicitors has today issued a fierce letter to the PCC, copied to the chair of the Commons Select Committee and the Press Association. Addressing Buscombe, Lewis wrote: “I am sure that upon mature reflection you will appreciate that in doing so you have betrayed any semblance of impartiality and regrettably ought to find yourself in a position where the honourable action would be for you to resign.”

Lewis maintains the accuracy of his evidence: ‘the conversation that I had with DS Maberly was witnessed by at least two other people, including the barrister for [Professional Footballers’ Association chief executive] Gordon Taylor.’

His letter is reproduced in full below:

Dear Baroness

I am deeply concerned that you have thought it proper to criticise my evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee without either having the courtesy or the propriety to put the allegations to me first. I regret that your failure to act properly has compromised any veneer of impartiality that you sought to create.

The different versions of events that appear to have been given do not even amount to a conflict of evidence. It seems that you have chosen to accept the contents of a hearsay letter constructed on behalf of the Metropolitan Police rather than the first hand evidence that was given by me to the Select Committee.  I am sure that upon mature reflection you will appreciate that in doing so you have betrayed any semblance of impartiality and regrettably ought to find yourself in a position where the honourable action would be for you to resign.

If it assists, the conversation that I had with DS Maberly was witnessed by at least two other people, including the barrister for Gordon Taylor. The context of the conversation was the resolution of the application for Third Party Disclosure against the Metropolitan Police. You will be aware that the Metropolitan Police had not told victims of phone hacking that they were victims. It is a matter of great concern that you have still not sought to examine the underlying documentation that would disprove the contents of the letter sent by the Metropolitan Police.  I was sceptical of the “whitewash” report that the PCC had issued but had satisfied myself that the report was carefully constructed to record that you had investigated nothing and consequently found nothing. My concern now is that you have magnified those findings in such a way as to suggest that there were a mere handful of victims.

My evidence was clear. DS Maberly had told me the 6000 figure but that he would not give me everything, just enough “to hang the News of the World”.

If you had checked the underlying documents you would have realised that the Police evidence was no more than “spin”. I find myself incredulous at the crassness of your statement. Even on the Gordon Taylor case, there were more examples of phone hacking than the “handful” that was mentioned within your report or by the Metropolitan Police. Of course, it suits the Metropolitan Police to try and downplay their woeful failures to notify all the victims of unlawfulness. In the Taylor case there were numerous individuals whose phone messages were hacked, and whose numbers were therefore acquired by the enquiry agent Glenn Mulcaire.

The dishonesty of the News of the World position was demonstrated by the News of the World’s initial denial of the use of information that had been obtained by unlawful phone hacking. It was only after the disclosure of the “transcript for Neville” document that the News of the World were forced to concede that the evidence that they had given was false. It is astonishing that you are not more concerned that a “Statement of Truth” was put forward by the News of the World that was incorrect. Evidence was given to the Court that was untrue. That evidence was given on behalf of a national newspaper that enjoys a very substantial readership. Why has the PCC not taken action against the News of the World? Why did you not mention that aspect within your speech to the Society of Editors?

The settlement of the Taylor case followed a Court Order that the News of the World must identify the individual known as ‘Ryle’ . The News of the World did not do so and has not done so. Have they given that information to the PCC? Have you listened to the recording?

Rather the News of the World chose to settle the case rather than identify their own employee who had been engaged in that unlawful activity. It is noteworthy that your report chose not to investigate that aspect. The PCC can be nothing unless it is a beacon of truth prepared to expose and criticise its own members where it is proper to do so.

Whilst I am as strong an advocate as there can be for a free press as a balance to Parliament and the Judiciary, I do so by balancing the absolute standard of honesty and the need to protect privacy. The unlawful access of phone messages in order to find tittle-tattle is wholly unacceptable by any decent standard. I should not have to remind you that it is your job to enforce those proper standards so that we can have an honest and free press not just a free press.

I will debate this issue with you in any forum. A free and open debate is called for after the findings of the Select Committee. If DS Maberly wishes to expose himself to cross-examination by the Select Committee than he should offer himself up to give evidence and disclose all the underlying documentation that will show exactly how many individuals had their phones hacked and how many individuals were listened to.

Yours truly

Mark Lewis

Letter to John Whittingdale MP

Dear Mr Whittingdale

I enclose a copy of a letter that I have sent to Baroness Buscombe as a result of her suggestion that I misled your Committee. I have not misled it at all and standby the evidence that I gave.

If the Committee wishes to recall me then I will gladly attend. I invite the Metropolitan Police to volunteer the disclosure that they gave in the Taylor case as well as the wider disclosure that they refused to give in order that I can demonstrate the falsity of their position.

Yours sincerely

Mark Lewis

Copy of letter to Press Association

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Buscombe continued: ‘We have a dysfunctional democracy’

More from PCC chairman Baroness Peta Buscombe (last night’s speech in full here / report here) on this morning’s Radio 4 Today Programme. She argued that a free press plays an important role in scrutinising government policies, but would not be drawn on the Sun’s use of the Jacqui Janes / Gordon Brown tape.

Listen to Buscombe at this link: (07.56)

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#soe09: Baroness Buscombe’s Society of Editors speech in full

November 15th, 2009 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Events

The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) does not need to come under statutory control, Baroness Peta Buscombe said in a speech to the annual Society of Editors conference tonight.

Read Journalism.co.uk’s full report or read her speech below:

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Sir Christopher Meyer’s speech in full: plea to publishers to aid PCC

November 24th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Events, Press freedom and ethics

As reported on the main page, Sir Christopher Meyer will tonight urge publications to support the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) in its role, which he emphasises is still relevant in light of online developments and recent privacy issues. Here is his speech in full, courtesy of the PCC’s website:

“It is always a pleasure to be in Manchester – a city with a vibrant media which I have visited more than any other in England during my time chairing the PCC. It was in this very room five years ago that I launched the first of our Open Days: public meetings in the towns and cities of the UK aimed at making the PCC as accessible as possible. Then, as now, we were given all possible support by the Manchester Evening News and Paul Horrocks. One of the most respected and innovative editors in Britain, Paul was also an outstanding member of the PCC for four years.

It has always been my ambition to hold a full meeting of the PCC outside London. It is vital to get over the message that we are not a body shut away inside a metropolitan bubble, dealing with the complaints of celebrities, royals (and near-royals), and politicians. The reality is far different. We exist for all the citizens of the United Kingdom; and of the thousands who come to us for help and advice, over 90 per cent lay no claim to celebrity whatsoever.

So, tomorrow’s meeting of the PCC is an historic moment in the 17-year life of our organisation. My colleagues from the board, all/most of whom are present tonight, are the people who take the decisions under the Code of Practice: about where the public interest meets the individual’s right to privacy; what constitutes a significant inaccuracy; when payments for information can be made – in short, on how the UK’s newspapers and magazines should gather and report news in print and online.

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