This is a copy of an open letter that was sent this morning, Monday 29th November, 2010, to the Chairman of the Press Standards Board of Finance, as the body that funds the Press Complaints Commission:
To the Chairman of the Press Board of Finance
This as an open letter to the Chair of the Press Board of Finance. We, the Media Standards Trust, are concerned about the circumstances of last week’s libel settlement by the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), particularly the lack of transparency surrounding the case, and would like to clarify some aspects of that settlement.
We would be very grateful if you could tell us:
How much was the settlement for (including legal costs)?
The PCC has, over the last 18 months, repeatedly emphasised its increased commitment to transparency (most notably in the 2009 Annual Review). It also, along with the press, often makes a virtue of the comparative low cost of press self-regulation as compared to, for example, Ofcom or the Advertising Standards Agency. The details of the settlement – notably the amount paid in damages, the legal costs, and the costs of the case overall – are therefore highly relevant and in the public interest.
Who paid for the settlement?
It is not at all clear, from the information so far released, who has agreed to pay for the settlement and costs on behalf of the PCC. If it is to come from the PCC’s £2 million annual budget, then this will necessarily have an impact on the PCC’s services (jeopardising the sparse resources it has). If it is not to come from the PCC’s budget then it is also in the public interest to know who is going to pay it and how it is going to be paid. Given this is the first time this has happened, the method of payment will set
What are the terms of employment of the PCC Chair?
The Press Board of Finance has the power to appoint the Chair of the PCC. It also, since it advertises for post, presumably has defined terms of employment. However, it is not at all clear, from the Articles of Association or elsewhere, under what terms the Chair is employed and what red lines – if any – there are in the terms of employment. In what circumstances, for example, can the Press Board of Finance, should it want to, ask the Chair to step down?
What action does Press BoF intend to take following the libel settlement?
This is the first time that the Chair of the PCC has had to apologise to the High Court and pay libel damages for misleading comments made. It would therefore be helpful to know what action the Press Board of Finance intends to take, particularly concerning how it intends to prevent this happening again, and how it intends to make financial provision for this in the future.
We would be very grateful if you could let us know the answers to these questions at your earliest convenience.
In the interests of transparency we will, after sending this letter, be making it public.
With best regards,
Director, Media Standards Trust