Vivien Hepworth - Chairman of the independent Governance Review
My main concern when I took on the role of chairing the first independent review of the governance of the PCC in 2009 was how some much-needed changes could be made without undermining all that had been achieved over the previous 18 years. I had served long enough on the Commission to have views about what needed to change; I was also respectful of an organisation that had survived its tumultuous early days and pioneered a Code of Practice that has been emulated in many other countries.
Core to the task were the three members of the panel who worked with me, Stephen Haddrill, Dr Elizabeth Vallance and Eddie Young, and Catherine Speller from the PCC office. We decided to test the organisation against fi ve key principles: clarity of purpose; effectiveness; independence; transparency; and accountability. This helped us to organise our thinking and our questions as we set off to review the Articles of Association, taking written then oralevidence and considering our responses.
Put like that, it all sounds very well-mannered - but we certainly did have those difficult conversations that I have encountered during all my time working with the PCC. "What is it?" said a member of the Panel as we kicked off our discussions. "Until we know what it is, how on earth can we test the rules under which it works?"
I can't pretend we found this discussion easy. The telephone hacking affair was not a direct part of our inquiry but the row about it provided a backdrop to our work. As a panel, we were in favour of self-regulation - but we wanted the rules and structures to support more rigorous discussion of difficult general issues such as this at Commission meetings as well as specific, challenging cases. We concluded that using committees to tackle difficult issues and report to the Board would be a useful way for the Commission to work. We understood the risk of the Commission pontificating on everything and trying to run the industry as opposed to regulating it under the Code but we also thought that the Commission members were well able to get that balance right.
We learned a lot from both the evidence and the people who came to see us. We were sometimes astonished at what people didn't know - one witness with a keen interest in the PCC had not realised that editors always withdraw from cases where their newspapers are involved. It was an eye-opener in terms of the need for more communication and we were glad to see the Commission dealing with this kind of issue without waiting for our fi nal report. Witnesses provided sometimes stringent criticism - but there was a passionate desire to want the Commission to move forward and a lot of good ideas.
In the end, we made 75 discrete recommendations to the Commission and to their great credit they have accepted very nearly all of them.
Disappointments? We found some representatives of the industry nervous about change - too much so in my view. This reflects no doubt the difficulties in the early years, when everything was very fragile, but after all this time there really is no evidence that the lay-dominated Commission will go mad and try to run the industry. I was also surprised that the lay Commissioners weren't keen on our view that they need to stop reading every case given the year-on-year increase in complaints and concentrate on the more difficult cases. I think they will need to revisit this.
The Commission is now working on implementation. The changes are too detailed to reference in full here, but they include defi ning for the public what the Commission is and what it does, setting out its rules more clearly, appointing a deputy chairman, setting in place a new Audit Committee and a new Nominations Committee and establishing new reporting standards.
I firmly believe that these new rules and structures will help the Commission achieve a more self-confi dent position as an effective self-regulatory body in a highly sensitive industry.
The independent Review of the PCC's governance marked an important turning point in the development of the PCC. It was the first time that our governance had been examined by an external panel, and the thorough questions they posed during their review helped us to reflect on both the PCC's evolution thus far, and how we could further adapt to ensure good practice for the future. The PCC's response to the independent Review - published in December 2010 - welcomed the new framework recommended by the panel, and responded on an individual basis to each of the 75 recommendations. Having accepted almost all of the points raised by the Review both in letter and in spirit, we are now underway with implementing the recommendations, to ensure that we operate in the best and most effective way possible.
We are very grateful to the members of the panel for undertaking their roles with such thoughtfulness and diligence.
‒ Press Complaints Commission
Jonathan Heawood - Director of the writers' charity English PEN
Why should we care about the free press? As a character says in Tom Stoppard's play Night and Day, "no matter how imperfect things are, if you've got a free press everything is correctable, and without it everything is concealable." Around the world, we have seen what happens when abuses of power cannot be challenged in the media. Syria, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and Bahrain were among the lowest ranked countries in the 2010 World Press Freedom Index.
However, as another character says in Stoppard's play, "I'm with you on the free press. It's the newspapers I can't stand." It's a common view in the UK, where, according to YouGov, only 10% of us trust tabloid journalists to tell the truth. In English PEN's campaign for libel reform we have met MPs and policy-makers who believe that English libel laws (so restrictive that they have been damned by the UN Human Rights Committee) are necessary to protect us from a press that is otherwise out of control.
This places the PCC in a difficult position. It can't support the (much-loved) principle of the free press without sometimes supporting the (much-loathed) newspapers. In this light the PCC has made some good but controversial decisions, refusing to uphold a complaint against the Daily Mail for comments on the death of Stephen Gately, or against the Daily Mail and the Independent on Sunday by Sarah Baskerville, the civil servant whose use of Twitter was publicised by the press.
The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and our own Supreme Court also balance free speech against other rights and interests. They are not seen as stooges of the media because they are not funded or overseen by representatives of the media. And so the real challenge for the PCC is not the nature of its adjudications but the nature of its funding and governance.
These remarks are good at highlighting the challenges that face the PCC, which perhaps come down to questions about how it should defi ne its role as it continues to develop as an organisation. Put another way: how should the PCC be an active agent in raising standards in the industry, while still preserving freedom of expression? We seek to answer these questions elsewhere in this document: by providing an efficient and accessible complaints service; by reaching out to those who need us; by offering help pre-publication; by training working journalists and students; and offering an overall lead to the industry in ethical issues. There is much work to do here, and we must ensure we always listen to those who raise challenges, so that we can make sure we are meeting them.
‒ Press Complaints Commission
Tim Luckhurst - Professor of Journalism at the University of Kent and a former editor of The Scotsman
It has been a painful year. The PCC was exposed as wrong for believing that it had not been "materially misled" about phone hacking. More pain followed when Richard Desmond withdrew his Express and Star titles from the system. It is not unreasonable to question the value of a regulator that cannot handle complaints about four national newspapers.
So, does the public interest demand that voluntary regulation now be abandoned? Several former supporters think so. They are wrong. Things are bad and new media are bringing fresh challenges, but legislators could still scour the world for a better regulatory system. They would fi nd only censorship masquerading as a servant of the people.
The solution is for the PCC to embrace, urgently, an enhanced role as a promoter of ethical standards in journalism. Beyond the excellent work it does on behalf of so many complainants it must promote itself as a passionate champion of ethics.
With newspaper circulations in decline, it is no longer plausible to pretend that old tricks work. If there was ever a case for spinning to make news sexy, it is destroyed by the plethora of sensation available online. Hyperbolic nonsense is ubiquitous on the internet. Modern readers are entitled to demand better.
They cherish trusted brands for their ability to present news accurately and in context, complete with commentary and analysis. Newspapers no longer need to be sensational. Instead they must be best at reporting thoroughly. Some call it curating the news.
The PCC must put promoting ethics on an equal footing with its role as an arbiter. Ethical considerations are becoming a criterion by which readers can distinguish professional reporting from the amateur variety known as citizen journalism. This will provoke resistance from sleazier publishers, but if it rises to the challenge the PCC can thrive in the multimedia era. It can help newspapers to thrive too, in print and online.