The PCC has accepted many of the recommendations of the review – and by extension recommendations previously made by the MST amongst others – and these should, over time, improve the service the PCC offers to individual complainants and make the system slightly more transparent.
In particular, the Media Standards Trust welcomes the PCC commitment to:
- publicise its rulings more widely and in a clear and consistent fashion
- follow up directly with editors after a breach has been established and a ruling made
- use working groups to look into areas of public concern
- increase its role in the development of the editorial code
- consider publishers who withhold funding as being outside the system, and formally decline to consider complaints about their relevant titles, or offer guidance to their editors
- remove a board member in circumstances where the board member is failing properly to fulfil his/her duties and responsibilities
We also welcome the PCC’s endorsement of the recommendation that the Press Board of Finance – the PCC’s funding body – make transparent who the funders are and what each of them pays. It seems remarkable that the press, so quick to criticise the opacity of funding sources in others, keeps its own methods of funding so secret.
However, it is a shame that the PCC has decided to:
- leave the methods of performance assessment essentially unchanged
- reject the possibility of oral hearings, even in exceptional cases
- reject the recommendation that members of the public be allowed to appeal to the Charter Commissioner (to be renamed the Independent Reviewer) on issues of substance rather than process
More importantly still, though this response is likely to lead to incremental improvements in the service and administration of the PCC, it does not represent a step change in self-regulation. It will not, for example, address the types of serious issues that caused such public concern in the past, such as the press coverage of the McCanns and phone hacking. Nor is there any indication that the PCC is motivated to strengthen its sanctions.
We are also disappointed to see that the PCC has retreated from its commitment to the spirit of the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (made in the 2009 annual review), as illustrated by their unwilllingness to recognise this commitment in our FOI request in September.
Martin Moore, director of the Media Standards Trust, said: ‘For those with basic complaints this ought to make the PCC slightly more open and more efficient. But for those with more serious complaints or those with deep concerns about the press, the PCC’s response does not signify a step change.’