What should a future press regulator look like?
The Press Complaints Commission has rightly come in for some major flack recently for not getting to the bottom of the hacking affair when they had the chance. However, it must be remembered that it has never been taken very seriously within the industry. It was always viewed largely as a facilitator for compromise – a complaint was made to the PCC who then acted as mediator between the complainant and the newspapers, trying to settle with an apology and a cheque. They never had any power other than to embarrass a publication, and if the editor or paper was shameless, well that doesn’t go very far, does it?
I am afraid I view self regulation in the same way Churchill famously viewed British democracy – it’s not very good, but it’s the best system available. By definition it tends to work in the favour of it’s members, rather than their customers. ( That would also go for MPs. doctors, lawyers, estate agents etc). But, on the other hand, I certainly don’t want politicians running our newspapers. I want a PCC who can actually make a difference.
How it could work
Give the PCC the power it needs to keep errant newspapers in check. Firstly establish a healthy number of people from outside the industry to sit on the commission. ( They have started this process already). And then give the PCC some real teeth.
1) Allow the PCC to fine newspapers for transgressions and decide where and how apologies are to appear.
2) Allow the PCC the ability to hold hearings into individual’s behaviour and hear evidence on oath.
3) Allow the PCC to fine individual journalists for transgressions.
4) Allow the PCC the ultimate sanction of insising that an editor of journalist is sacked.
How could they achieve this? Well look to the Premier League for inspiration. You can’t become a coach or manager without specific coaching qualifications and badges. If you trangress the rules you can be fined or banned from the touchline, or both. Surely journalism is as professional as football? I am not saying that we all need to have a degree in newspaper journalism, but if you rise to a certain level in a newspaper you should be expected to know what universal standards are expected of you. To guarantee that standards are maintained, the PCC could insist that each journalist on a newspaper signs a personal commitment to the PCC to adhere to these standards. This would allow journalists the opportunity to stand up against illegal or immoral requests – with the backing of the PCC code of conduct, which they and their editor will have personally signed. If you transgress, you would be seen to have broken this contract and forfeited the right to work in the industry at that level.
This all seems draconian, but the industry is about to be steeped in scandal like it has never known before. If journalists, especially tabloid journalists, ever want to take the moral high ground again they have to be above suspicion. If the PCC want to represent the tabloids, they have to be seen as strict enforcers who have the power and the will to clear up this mess.