The Press Complaints Commission has generated a fair amount of social media chatter for criticising Tony Blair’s memories of his dealings with the commission. Its letter to Press Gazette was flagged up by media commentators and others who thought it amusing that Tony Blair’s book may not have been wholly accurate.
The PCC pointed out that two claims in Blair’s memoirs were not true:
- That he had not used the PCC since a complaint about coverage of his role in plans for the funeral of the Queen Mother
- That the PCC is not comprised wholly of editors (who are not even in a majority) and that they do not take part in decisions which affect their own titles
It’s broadly positive that the PCC has sought to defend itself publicly. PCC Watch previously criticised the PCC for failing to defend itself against the attack from Peter Crouch. When it doesn’t, the role of press self-regulation can quickly be misunderstood and myths around the role of editors and the independence of the commission take root.
The PCC’s work in protecting the privacy of the Blairs – and particularly their children – is well known within the industry. That their children were able to grow up largely outside the public eye (except for the odd clear public interest story) is a good thing. But the deal wasn’t always observed. The Blairs complained to the PCC on 5 occasions – always in issues concerning their children. Of these, 3 of the complaints went to adjudication (significantly higher than average) of which all were upheld (significantly higher than average). So perhaps they were entitled to think that the PCC’s effectiveness at controlling newspaper editors was limited.
Perhaps the PCC’s position would be stronger if its data was more transparent. If you search “Tony Blair” on the PCC site there are 0 search results. A search for Blair throws up 29 results, of which only six are complaints from the Blairs. Moreover, any combination of search terms that we could think of did not reveal the matter at hand – the complaint about the reporting of Blair’s role at the Queen Mother’s funeral.
Of those complaints which were made by the Blairs, none have a clear date – and instead require you to research the reporting dates of the PCC’s own period. And of course that only deals with the formal complaints. The PCC does not record all of the dealings it says it has had with the office of Tony Blair.
So in short, the PCC does not provide enough evidence on its own website that it is right and Tony Blair is wrong.
Thanks to PCC Watch, we’ve tagged all of the complaints so you can navigate through their complaints – although not the complaints the PCC has not made public. The PCC is reviewing its website, and we’re sure such matters will be taken on board.
Blair was wrong on the independence of the PCC – but only to an extent. ‘The PCC rightly says that the Commission is made up of lay members and editors. Although, the rules to which the editors adhere are made by the Editorial Code Committee, which is composed entirely of editors. Moreover, though we are told that the editor of a title which is being complained about does leave the room, the PCC has not published minutes to demonstrate this as a matter of routine.
Tony Blair could have appealed if he believed that the PCC did not follow its own process properly. And who had the job of reviewing the case? The last office holder was Sir Michael Wilcocks, whose previous dealings with the PCC were in his role as Black Rod. An unfortunate coincidence.