A report prepared for the International Federation of Journalists (“the IFJ”) into a controversy over illegal telephone hacking in the tabloid press in Britain says that the country’s self-regulatorPress Complaints Commission  is in need of urgent reform to enhance the reputation of British journalism.

The report was commissioned by the IFJ after the PCC carried out two inquiries following claims of illegal tapping of the telephones of celebrities by journalists at The News of the World, the flagship title of the Rupert Murdoch press in Britain.  The claims, made by The Guardian, were dismissed by the PCC which accepted the tabloid management’s view that the actions of two employees who were jailed in January 2007 for illegal hacking were an isolated incident.

However, fresh Guardian claims following extensive and secretive payouts to the victims of the hacking system last year led to a second inquiry. The PCC again accepted the News of the World’s view and this time rebuked The Guardian, sparking a row which led The Guardian’s editor to resign from his place on the PCC.  

The IFJ Report, prepared by Belgian journalist and writer Jean-Paul Marthoz, has found that the actions of the PCC have weakened its credibility and revealed major failings in its mandate and its ways of operating.  “A critical moment has arrived and the case for reform of the PCC appears tobe unanswerable,” says Marthoz in his report .

Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary said today

“It is clear that the PCC got itself into the no-man’s-land of ethical journalism.  Our report shows that it was hopelessly caught between two forces at work in journalism that pull in diametrically opposing directions. In doing so it exposed its own profound weakness as a credible self-regulator.”

The IFJ report was commissioned as part of the IFJ Ethical Journalism Initiative, a global campaign supporting ethical conduct in journalism and calling for credible and transparent forms of self-regulation in media. In his report Marthoz highlights a number of key reforms that could rebuild trust in a self-regulator for the British Press, including adopting the right of reply for people who are victims of press misbehaviour, a clause of conscience to allow journalists to opt out of unethical working practice and for more transparency in all areas of its operational work.

He also argues that it needs to have the power and mandate to carry out proper investigations and he describes its inquiries into the hacking affair as wholly inadequate.He calls for a paradigm shift that would give a reformed regulator the voice and authority to speak out over press standards and to eliminate the impression that its current role is to be the defender of a press industry that is increasingly short of public confidence.  He concludes

“The time has come for partisans of self-regulation to demonstrate the value of journalism as a public good and the media’s real commitment to the highest ethical standards in a profession that is a key pillar of a vibrant and principled democracy.”

The full report can be found here.