In a recent statement the Society of Editors asserted that Hacked Off was wrong to say that the Press Complaints Commission (“PCC”) had been discredited in the Leveson Report. But it is the Society of Editors that is wrong.
Here are just ten of the criticisms made of the PCC by Lord Justice Leveson in his report. (They are from volume 4, part J, chapter 4.)
1 – ‘It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the self-regulatory system was run for the benefit of the press not of the public’, and ‘in practice, the PCC has proved itself to be aligned with the interests of the press, effectively championing its interests’.
2 – The PCC suffers from a ‘profound lack of any functional or meaningful independence from the industry’ and is ‘not in any way independent of the industry’. PressBoF, a committee ‘entirely made up of senior industry figures’, is ‘the ultimate paymaster’, controlling the PCC’s finances ‘and the appointment of the PCC Chair’.
3 – ‘Despite an on-going process of reform, the [PCC] appointment process appears to be neither transparent nor impartial.’
4 – ‘In reality the functional independence of the PCC was restricted by the limited resources which the industry supplied’, and funding by PressBoF is ‘barely sufficient to enable it to conduct its complaints handling functions effectively’.
5 – Although the PCC has been presented to the world by the industry over many years as a self-regulator for the press, ‘in reality it is a complaints handling body’ and ‘not actually a regulator at all’.
6 – Its ‘powers are inadequate, especially regarding the right to conduct an effective investigation’, meaning it ‘is at the mercy of what it is told by those against whom complaint was made’.
7 – It ‘has not monitored press compliance with the Code and the statistics which it has published lack transparency.’
8 – ‘The Editors’ Code Committee which sets the rules is wholly made up of serving editors’, allowing them to protect each others’ interests.
9 – The PCC tries to ‘gather in’ privacy cases as complaints, thereby preventing them from going before the courts.
10 – It has sought to mediate far too many complaints rather than reach simple findings, so allowing newspapers to wear down members of the public through ‘complaint fatigue’.
If that does not leave the PCC discredited, it is hard to imagine what would. Yes, Leveson had a few kind words to say about the efforts of PCC staff to provide some kind of service despite such handicaps, but only the most skew-eyed reader could suggest that this praise outweighed his damning overall assessment.
Look at it another way: say those same criticisms were levelled, not against an organisation operated by the press, but against a hospital, a bank or an energy company. Would the editors of our national newspapers hesitate for one moment before declaring that institution discredited? Of course not.