Any replacement for the Press Complaints Commission must go beyond newspapers

If you needed reminding why journalists are ranked in polls as less trustworthy even than MPs, look no further than the case of murder victim Milly Dowler.

Firstly, the intense coverage of Levi Bellfield’s conviction for her murder led to an attempted kidnap charge being dropped due to the impossibility of a fair trial. This denied the alleged victim, and the police and legal team that had carefully put together the case against Bellfield, the opportunity to see justice done.

Then came The Guardian’s shocking revelations yesterday that the News Of The World intercepted Milly’s mobile phone to listen to answerphone messages left for her. Some were allegedly deleted to free up space, potentially hampering the police investigation into her disappearance.

These two instances reinforce the common assertion that journalism is ‘broken’, that it prefers to rake muck than hold the powerful to account, and that it needs a tough new watchdog to replace the self-regulatory Press Complaints Commission.

I’m not about to defend the PCC too vigorously. It seems to have had difficulty tackling complex modern issues like phone hacking and privacy. Even so, in my (thankfully very limited) experience it is pretty good at resolving the more minor disputes which it has to deal with on a daily basis. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of journalists aren’t sewer rats but people who just want to be a force for public good. We’re usually nosey but not particularly nasty.

But, if the PCC is to be replace, we must recognise the media landscape has completely changed in the last decade. Any new regulator should deal with all news organisations, whether they publish their news in newspapers, in magazines, on the radio, on TV or just online.

Ofcom is the body which regulates TV and radio content but, as media converges, should it or the PCC look at complaints about a newspaper website’s podcast or video footage? How about news stories on a radio station’s website? And then there’s user-generated content: who on earth would deal with a complaint about a video clip posted by a reader on Twitter using a hashtag to make it automatically appear on a newspaper’s website?

Newspapers pay the PCC to regulate their printed products, websites and now even tweets posted by its journalists. But news organisations which are unconnected to a printed product are not subject to the same code. The content of online-only news providers like Yahoo, MSN, AOL or the Huffington Post, which attract more readers than many national and all local newspaper websites, is not regulated by the PCC.

What’s more, the regulation needs to be compulsory, not voluntary. The Daily Express opted out of the PCC last year, while only newspapers and magazines are allowed in the club.

But if you want to be a news provider, whether a newspaper, a hyperlocal start-up, a monthly magazine or even a local authority website, you should want to stick by the same rules of fair play as the established players.

People who are aggrieved by a story, and get no satisfaction from approaching the news provider directly with their concerns, should have a proper complaints procedure to follow without needing to worrying about lawyers fees.

Ofcom came about through the merger of several TV and radio regulatory bodies. For the digital age, we need one unified body to oversee all of the media and restore the public’s trust in our journalism.


1 Comment »

  1. […] Paul Cockerton>> Any replacement for the Press Complaints Commission must go beyond newspapers […]

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