This is the first of a two part review of the PCC’s response to the governance review
The Press Complaints Commission published its response to the governance review that it established in August 2009. The overriding sense from the document is that the reforms will do much to tidy up the process for those concerned about small-scale inaccuracies but little to make a step-change to a PCC that could protect, for example, the McCann’s from libellous articles.
Naturally there are things that we both agree with (either because they reflect the MST’s submission to the governance review or because they’re just eminently sensible) and disagree with. So to be as fair as possible, we wanted to respond to the review in two parts – those that are positive things and those that are not.
The PCC is used to having a low profile in the newspapers that created it. Nevertheless, it’s surprising to PCC Watch that the PCC’s recommendations have not received a single line in a national newspaper. But the PCC’s document is detailed, thoughtful and clearly addresses each point raised by the review team – and so deserves a considered response.
1. The review was a positive process, and the response well considered
The governance review process was reasonably transparent, with a separate website and the written submissions published online. The governance review document clearly set out the big issues that it had considered during its evidence-gathering and did not appear to feel unduly constrained by the tight brief that it was given.
The PCC’s response is a similarly professional document, with a paragraph by paragraph response to the governance review panel’s recommendations
The PCC’s response to the governance review sets out many things that it is already committed to doing in order to ensure that it is effective. The PCC has committed to a more efficient handling of most complaints (20 days instead of 30) and seeks to provide as much information as possible in the summaries of the complaints published on the website.
The commission has also begun the process of redeveloping its website in order to ensure that the data is presented more clearly and year-on-year comparisons are available in its annual report. This is welcome and will better enable people to hold the press and PCC more accountable (as we have sought to do with our Press Complaints site).
The PCC has also committed to being clearer about its use of sanctions. Whilst the MST found this to be one of the weaker parts of the response, it should also be noted that the establishment of a working group with Press BoF to consider sanctions at least provides a mechanism for further consideration to be given to this vital area.
Most of the recommendations on independence have been accepted by the commission. Minutes of the meetings are already published on the website and an enhanced register of interests will better enable the public to see when an editor does and does not have to recuse themselves from discussions about complaints against publications with which they have a relationship.
However, the most significant part of this section concerns the funding of the PCC. Whilst Press BoF has been willing to reveal the formula which determines what regional newspapers and magazines contribute towards the PCC, they have kept secret the contributions from national newspapers. The only argument that we have heard in favour of doing this is that it protects the PCC from inadvertently favouring the largest contributors.
It’s significant, therefore, that the PCC “endorses the idea that there should be greater transparency about the funding structure”. Not because it will lead to an immediate change, but because Press BoF is rapidly running out of credible arguments in favour of its secret approach.
Lastly, the PCC has also created a mechanism by which PCC board members who have failed to fulfil their duties and responsibilities may be discharged from the commission, by a two-thirds majority vote. If implemented correctly, this would have enabled a proper procedure to be followed to strip the editor of the Daily Express of his PCC post after his newspaper paid out a significant sum for libelling the McCanns.
The PCC has committed to a protocol which has now been agreed and put in place. However, this section of the response was largely disappointing and so will be dealt with in the second of the two blogposts.
The PCC has simplified the names of the charter commissioner and the charter compliance panel, although in other respects the roles appear largely unchanged. There are a number of smaller sensible, small-scale recommendations which will further improve the PCC’s accountability, including an internal review mechanism for each commissioner. Within the limits of the recommendations of the governance review, the PCC’s response is largely constructive.
The PCC’s response to the governance review will help nudge the commission to being a more rigorous, professionally-run organisation. However, as we will see in the second section, none of the recommendations represent a step-change in the way that the PCC operates so are unlikely to mean a PCC which receives less criticism from those who want a tougher body with a wider remit.