PCC Governance Review: No fundamental change

The first ever full review of the Press Complaints Commission says that it needs a more clearly defi

The Press Complaints Commission Governance Review has made series of recommendations for enhancing the system of press self-regulation but stopped short of calling for fundamental change.

The commission's first ever wholesale review said it needed to have a more clearly defined role, stronger leadership and increased influence outside the industry to raise its profile amongst the general public.

The press watchdog also needs to come under tougher scrutiny about its operations, seek greater engagement with the newspaper industry, be more transparent about appointments and be subject to more rigorous examination of its own performance, the review concluded.

A total of 75 recommendations aimed at strengthening the body charged with overseeing self-regulation of the British press were published today.
The review stopped short of recommending any fundamental change, such as the introduction of new investigative powers or the adoption of new, more powerful sanctions for use against titles that breach its rules.

Key recommendations did include a call on the PCC to take a more proactive approach by initiating its own investigations on possible code breaches and contacting those involved in news stories to offer its services.

The PCC was also encouraged to implement a series of reforms to raise public awareness of its operations, the limits of its powers and how rulings were reached.

The review said more work was needed to ensure apologies are prominently published and said the PCC should consider revealing publicly when it had privately admonished editors.

The PCC should also consider engaging in direct follow-ups with editors, once a code breach has been established and a ruling made, and take active steps to encourage more editors to serve - on a rota-like basis - on the commission and refer ethical issues to the PCC.

The review suggests that the PCC agree an annual list of performance objectives and create a new lay body to monitor performance.

A lay deputy chairman should also be appointed to increase the "visibility" of non-industry commissioners, the review said, and lay members should have greater input to the editors' code committee.

In addition, it recommended the commission and PressBof, the body that collects funding for the PCC from publishers and sets its remit, consider forming a series of working group to look at policy areas, including one to investigate how existing sanctions could be more effective.

The review said it was not within its remit to consider sanctions; however it said the introduction of fines would not benefit the system of self-regulation.

Former commissioner Vivien Hepworth, who led the eleven-month review process, said her team had sought a diverse range of opinions on the future shape of the organisation, taking 40 submissions from interested parties and interviewing 29 individuals.

"It is, of course, impossible for us to bridge the gap between some of these opinions; the challenge for the review was to see how the PCC and those it serves could benefit from improvements to its overall governance," she said.

"We hope that the recommendations of the review will plot the route for significant reform and improvement.

"The proposals we have put forward will give the PCC more clarity, independence and effectiveness and will ensure that it is transparent and accountable. It is now for the PCC and the industry to respond to, and implement, our findings."

Despite seeking a range of opinion on the commission's function, the review's conclusions offer a series of proposals less radical than those suggested earlier this year by the commons media select committee's investigation into press standards.

In February, the commons recommended the complete overhaul of the PCC, with its chairman John Whittingdale saying it needed to take a more active role in upholding standards as it was seen as "lacking credibility and authority".

MPs said the PCC needed to be given new powers to fine newspapers that breached its code of conduct and, in more serious cases, suspend the publication of offending titles for one issue.

The committee of MPs went on to criticise the PCC's investigation into allegations phone hacking at the News of the World, calling it "simplistic" and saying the regulator was seen as "lacking credibility and authority".

In November, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger resigned from editors' code committee in the wake of publication of the PCC report into the phone-hacking affair, saying the PCC needed a more rigorous investigative function.

The PCC report had criticised the Guardian's investigations, which brought the hacking allegations back to public attention, leading Rusbridger to claim the report was "worse than pointless" and the regulator "weak".

Oliver Luft writes for Press Gazette.