Paul Dacre’s chairman’s report of the editors committee in charge of the code of practice adopts a familiar tone – that of a government minister complaining that he is not sufficiently understood, or appreciated by a public that too often gives the wrong answers when it is asked what it thinks. It would appear that his committee has asked the public what it thinks and doesn’t like the results.
To his credit, Mr Dacre says that his committee ‘learns a lot from the public’ in its submissions to the committee’s annual review of the code of practice. Unfortunately, he chooses not to reveal them. He also says that the “the press lives by disclosure” and welcomes public scrutiny. But he chooses not to disclose important information about the administration of his committee (or the wider system of self-regulation) and his statement only singles out scrutiny which he found to be unwelcome.
Dacre rails at the ‘myths’ and ‘occasional prejudice’ which surrounds self-regulation. He criticises a doctor who appears to have made inaccurate statements in his submission, though Dacre’s committee is not so welcoming of public scrutiny that the submission to the consultation is publicly available. And Mr Dacre himself does little to inform the public of the activities of the Press Complaints Commission. The Daily Mail hasn’t reported anything from the commission since February, and has only reported it twice in 2010.
Dacre also moans that a “myth persists” that editors sit in on hearings about their own newspaper. However, the PCC has kept its proceedings secret until 2010 and even now there is nowhere on its website where it is clear what the rules are in relation to when an editor can and cannot be in the room.
Mr Dacre is also annoyed by the misunderstanding of the role of the code committee in the administration of the PCC (it is not involved). With seven different committees and bodies, press self-regulation is a system designed to be independent though this has made it understandably complicated to understand.
The body which Mr Dacre chairs has become increasingly transparent in the last couple of years, establishing its own website and press handling arrangments to ensure that its independence from the Press Complaints Commission (which rules on breaches of the code) is better understood. It has even taken to consulting the public on any possible changes to the code, even if Mr Dacre dislikes the results.
But for all the independence of both bodies, Mr Dacre could do more to make clear where his role starts and stops. Criticising the Doctor’s views on the administration of the PCC’s meetings is not a matter for Mr Dacre so perhaps he would be better not passing judgement in his (unconnected) role as chairman of a different committee.
Mr Dacre’s committee is also astonishingly secretive. It publishes no minutes. The method by which Mr Dacre was appointed chairman is as transparent as a Masonic Lodge. We are not allowed to know how much Paul Dacre’s newspaper contributes financially to the administration of self-regulation.
The editor of the Daily Mail believes in self-regulation deeply. He gives up his own time to serve on its committees and has been on at least one of them for each of the past 10 years. When he tells parliamentarians that he can imagine no greater shame than the criticism of his colleagues, there can be no doubting that he means it. That must be why his newspaper has worked so hard to ensure that it avoids negative adjudication – which it has done so successfully for more than 10 years. So it is a great pity that rather than reflecting how hard the PCC has worked to improve self-regulation and address the concerns of its critics he takes a swipe at anyone who has had the audacity to make a suggestion for reform.
Alas, Mr Dacre has found that “many mindsets remain firmly locked” and would rather “critics spent as much zeal trying to help reverse” the financial challenges facing the industry. He ends optimistically though, with the hope that “today’s often-corrosive debate could become instead tomorrow’s constructive way forward. Close your eyes, and you could be listening to a government minister talk about the Daily Mail.