Archive for the ‘pcc’ tag
The PCC has hit back at claims made by politicians that it lacks public confidence (‘PCC hits back at claims that public has lost confidence’, Press Gazette, 4th May 2011). Director Stephen Abell has defended the PCC, telling Press Gazette that the organisation:
- has never been more active or proactive
- has high satisfaction rates from the people that use its services
- is helping more people than ever before
It is important that the PCC robustly defends the system of press self-regulation. However, in its defence the PCC has used a number of statistics that are both unclear and difficult to substantiate. Without substantiation they risk further reducing public confidence in the PCC.
Number of complaints – Abell said that the PCC had issued 1700 rulings and resolved more than 550 complaints. It is hard to understand how the PCC reached that figure. The 2009 annual report did not use the term ruling and the 2010 report is yet to be published. In the 550 resolved complaints the PCC does not come to a ruling – and Abell’s language suggests that the numbers are distinct. The PCC only actually adjudicated 44 complaints in 2010, of which 24 were not upheld. The PCC’s website records complaints about just 527 different articles.
The PCC may be working hard, and it may have done something 1700 times. But by not telling people what the words mean or providing the data in a form that can be checked, it shakes confidence that the organisation is transparent and fair.
PCC’s powers – Abell said that the PCC had prevented intrusive information being published more than 100 times. That’s an odd choice of language. The PCC has no powers to prevent anything. Indeed, it resists powers to its pre-publication advice.
Public confidence – the PCC cited a poll from Toluna conducted last month which claimed that ’79 per cent of people have no concerns over confidence in the PCC’. Toluna is not a member of the British Polling Council, the self-regulatory organisation for opinion pollsters. Its services are not used by newspapers to commission opinion polls. Neither the questions asked of respondents nor the full results of the survey have been published.
There’s a valid argument to be had over whether the PCC is sufficiently proactive, or whether the satisfaction of those who uses its services (as opposed to those who don’t) is a useful yardstick for the organisation.
However, when the PCC chooses to provide data inconsistently and release only part of it, there can be no useful debate. In its defence, the Media Standards Trust has always found the PCC willing to answer questions to clarify its meaning. But not every member of the public can be expected to contact the PCC every time it is quoted in the press.
Abell closed by saying:
“We are also, of course, subject to comments from those with little knowledge – or little interest in knowledge – of what we actually do, and how we act to help people. It would be regrettable if such comments are allowed to distort the positive aspects of our work.”
If the PCC is going to attack the integrity of its critics, it should take care to make its defence more transparent and accountable.
On Friday it emerged that the PCC and its chair had paid £20,000 in damages to Mark Lewis as part of its libel settlement for comments made by the PCC Chair at the Society of Editors conference in 2009. We do not yet know the liability of the PCC for legal costs.
This information only came out in a related hearing in the High Court regarding action Lewis is taking against the Metropolitan Police.
It is of particular interest given that the PCC was previously unwilling to release this information (despite a request from the Media Standards Trust), and that in an interview on Radio 4’s Media Show four weeks ago Baroness Buscombe appeared to suggest she/the PCC had not apologised or paid damages (see transcript below).
Since more information has come to light we lay it out here so you can make up on your own mind on the (rather confusing) situation:
Evidence given by Mark Lewis to the Parliamentary Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport (2nd September 2009)
Q2069 Chairman [John Whittingdale MP]: The key question, you correctly surmise, or at least we would say is your view, that it is unlikely Clive Goodman was commissioning information from Gordon Taylor’s phone. Do you have any evidence to suggest who in the News of the World might have been receiving information from Gordon Taylor’s phone?
Mr Lewis: This is interesting because I have heard the evidence given by the Assistant Commissioner and his side-kick. The methodology of the claim—and I have worked out there was a claim, it was obvious to me there was a claim but to make that stick I had to get documents which proved it—the way of getting the documents and the methodology, was applying for third party disclosure, as lawyers would call it, of various part bodies. That is why I applied for evidence from the Information Commissioner, and they consented, evidence from the CPS, and that was not a problem either, and evidence from the Metropolitan Police. When it came to the Metropolitan Police, the person who attended at the court was Detective Sergeant Mark Maberly. I can mention that because it was an open court, there were court hearings, and Detective Sergeant Mark Maberly said to me, “You are not having everything but we will give you enough on Taylor to hang them.” Those were his words, “to hang them”. So he quite clearly knew at that time there was sufficient evidence about my client, and I only had one client at that time, Mr Taylor, to hang the News of the World about that client. He also mentioned the number of people whose phones had been hacked. Whether that was an aside, whether that leads me into the threat of the injunction that the News of the World have made against me, or through their lawyers have made against me, the reservation of that right, but they had said that there was evidence about, or they had found there were something like 6,000 people who were involved. It was not clear to me whether that was 6,000 phones which had been hacked, or 6,000 people including the people who had left messages. I think I am able to explain to this Committee how it worked…”
Statement of Baroness Buscombe to Society of Editors Annual Conference (15th November 2009, taken from Statement in Open Court)
“Those of you who are familiar with the case will recall the significance that was attached to the apparent evidence of a then Detective Sergeant from the Metropolitan Police called Mark Maberly. It was he who was alleged to have said that around 6,000 people had had their phone messages hacked or interecepted.
This allegation was made in oral evidence to the Select Committee on Culutre, Media and Sport, and has also been published in the press. It was repeated just last Monday in some coverage questioning our report.
Since the publication of our report last Monday, the PCC has heard from Detective Inspector (as he now is) Maberly through lawyers for the Metropolitan Police.
This letter says that Mr Maberly has in fact been wrongly quoted on the 6,000 figure. The reliable evidence, we were told in an e-mail confirming the contents of the letter, is that given by Assistant Commission John Yates to the Select Committee, who referred to only a ‘handful’ of people being potential victims.
In light of this, I am doing two things.
First, I am of course putting this new evidence to my colleagues on teh Press Complaints Commission, because they will want to update our report to take account of this development.
Second, I have just spoken to the Chairman of the Select Committe on Culture, Media and Sport, John Whittingdale, to draw this to his attention. Any suggestion that a Parliamentary Inquiry has been misled is of course an extremely serious matter”
Subsequent response of the Press Complaints Commission to the Parliamentary Select Committee (24th March 2010, from PCC website and Select Committee)
“Finally on this subject, the Commission wishes to take this opportunity to correct the record. Your report says that the Chairman of the PCC issued a statement in November 2009 which may have suggested that Gordon Taylor’s lawyer, Mr Lewis, misled the Committee. This is not the case, as the PCC made publicly clear at the time. Baroness Buscombe has never suggested – and does not believe – that Mr Lewis misled the Select Committee and her statement, which made no reference to Mr Lewis, was not intended as a criticism of him or the evidence which he gave to the Select Committee. Baroness Buscombe regrets that her statement may have been misunderstood and that this has been of concern to Mr Lewis. Baroness Buscombe and the Commission therefore wish to make this position entirely clear”
Transcript of interview with Baroness Buscombe on Radio 4’s The Media Show (2nd February 2011)
Steve Hewlett (SH): In terms of acting responsibly you in a speech – you personally in a speech to the Society of Editors, questioned what a lawyer had said to the Select Committee in terms of how many ostensible victims there were and you went on to say, having questioned what he’d said, that you’d spoken to the Chairman of the Select Committee to draw his attention to this
Baroness [Peta] Buscombe (PB): I didn’t question what he’d said actually
SH: You said any suggestion that a Parliamentary inquiry has been misled is of course an extremely serious matter. Subsequently he sued and you were forced into court to apologize at the end of the libel action
PB: No I wasn’t. I was never forced into court to apologise
SH: But did you pay damages?
PB: No. There was absolutely no question of apologizing. This was all about…
SH: Did you pay costs?
PB: I am not prepared to talk about that on air. I will tell you this, that what happened at the time was there was absolutely no intention to impugn anyone’s reputation whose name wasn’t even mentioned at the time. But we immediately clarified the situation
SH: You said in the speech that this letter you received, that the lawyer – I should say to the audience – had said that a policeman had told him that the number of phone hacking victims was in the thousands, possibly 6,000
PB: But you’re focusing very much on…
SH: You said to the SOE this letter that you’d received has in fact said he’d been wrongly quoted: ‘the reliable evidence’ you said, ‘the reliable evidence we were told in an email confirming the contents of the letter is that given by a sitting commissioner John Yates to the Select Committee who referred to only a handful of people being potential victims’. In that case, first you’ve sided with the police rather than the lawyer
PB: That’s not true
SH: Secondly, he’s sued and forced you to court to apologise
PB: What I was doing – I wasn’t forced to court at all – what was happening was I was I felt being responsible at the time in terms of ensuring to the best of our ability and belief that we were working on evidence that we had been given. The truth is that I made a statement that I thought was absolutely the right thing to do at the time
SH: Which turned out to be wrong
PB: Which turned out its… We don’t know yet whether it’s wrong, we have no idea, and that is why we have had to be so careful in terms of…
SH: Which is why people will criticise you…
PB: No, excuse me, you’ve asked me
SH: …for taking one side rather than the other
PB: No, there’s no question of us taking any sides here, that is the most important thing about this. We are fiercely independent when it comes to this whole issue and indeed any issue
Letter of clarification from Baroness Buscombe to the Media Standards Trust director, Martin Moore (15th February 2011)
Thank you for your letter of 4th February, regarding my appearance on The Media Show.
My comments to Steve Hewlett centred around the issue of phone hacking generally, and I only touched upon the matter concerning Mr Lewis. Let me, therefore, explain the position further. Mr Lewis was concerned that my speech to the Society of Editors’ Annual Conference on 15 November 2009 may have been misunderstood to mean that he had misled the Parliamentary Select Committee. That was not my intention and I was happy to join in a statement in open court to make my position clear. I attach a copy of the statement which confirmed that my speech was not intended as a criticism of Mr Lewis or the evidence which he gave to the Select Committee. In the statement, I was also happy to express regret that a potential misunderstanding of my speech had caused Mr Lewis concern.
I, therefore, consider that my position, and that of the Commission, in relation to the issue raised by Mr Lewis has been adequately clarified.
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.”