After weeks of industry speculation, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) confirmed today that Richard Desmond-owned Northern & Shell has stopped paying towards the system of press self-regulation. As a consequence the Press Board of Finance and the PCC, quite properly, ejected Northern & Shell publications from the self-regulatory system.
The Media Standards Trust today asks the following open questions of Northern & Shell, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) and the Press Board of Finance (PressBof):
Northern and Shell
- Will you guarantee to offer the same levels of protection to members of the public – such as families who have suffered a suicide – as you did when covered by the PCC code?
- If a member of the public feels harassed by a journalist claiming to work for Northern & Shell, what should they do?
- If you discover that a high profile public figure is pregnant before their 12 week scan, will you protect their privacy as other newspapers have agreed, or just publish the story?
- Will your publications continue to write to the PCC Editorial Code, or is Northern & Shell opting out of all existing codes of self-regulation?
- How should a reader go about making a complaint about something that is written in one of your titles?
- When the Media Standards Trust wanted to make a complaint to the Daily Star, it found that the newspaper did not make public the name of its editor or a phone number for anything other than the newsdesk. Will the affected titles now make clear how to contact the editor and/or provide a clear internal complaints system?
- What motivated your withdrawal and on what terms, if any, would you return to the system overseen by the PCC?
Press Complaints Commission
- What impact will Northern & Shell’s withdrawal have on the PCC’s overall funding? Given that the amount contributed by national newspapers is kept secret, it is currently not possible for those outside the industry to work out what effect the exit will have.
- Will the PCC be able to maintain the same level of service on a lower budget?
- In its statement – and for the first time – the PCC revealed some of the publications not covered by the PCC (i.e. Northern & Shell publications). Will the PCC now publish a list of all those that do subscribe?
- Was Northern & Shell clear as to what motivated its withdrawal? And, if so, is it clear under what terms it might return to the system?
- This is the second time in two months that the PCC budget has been hit (the first being the libel settlement and costs in November 2010). PressBof was not transparent about the cost of the first (and did not respond to the Media Standards Trust’s letter requesting further information); will it now be transparent about the cost of the Northern & Shell withdrawal?
- PressBof has previously refused to provide any assurances on what this means for the PCC’s level of service. Will it now provide assurances that the level of service the PCC provides will be maintained?
- Given the importance of national newspaper contributions to the sustainability of the PCC, will PressBof now lift the secrecy surrounding those contributions, and publish information on who pays for the PCC and how much each pays?
Martin Moore, the director of the Media Standards Trust, said: “The withdrawal of Northern & Shell raises fundamental questions about the sustainability of the current system of self-regulation. The PCC and PressBof need to reassure the public that they will continue to have adequate avenues of complaint. Northern & Shell needs to be clear as to how it will, in future, fulfil its obligations to its readers and to the broader public.
“The Press Complaints Commission argues consistently that it exists as a better alternative – and deterrent to – statutory regulation. It now needs to explain what impact Northern & Shell’s withdrawal will have on the general public, and what it plans to do to ensure the comprehensiveness and sustainability of press self-regulation.”