The PCC is closing down. After 21 years of self-regulation we enter into an interregnum; a limbo time between the PCC and when PCC2, or whatever the new regulatory body is called, comes in to being sometime post-Leveson. Will we notice the difference? And does it mean that the PCC has failed?
“Something needs to change” — that appears to be the logic behind the move to scrap the PCC and replace it with, er, something else; we don’t know quite what, but it won’t be called the PCC and it won’t be exactly the same (although some of the bits and possibly personnel will be the same). With the most open mind in the world, it’s hard to avoid thinking that this seems to be change for the sake of change.
You might think it’s a kind of rebadging exercise similar to the one that saw the toxic News of the World brand disappear from newsstands, only to be replaced not long afterwards by the somewhat familiar Sun on Sunday.
If you’re more cynical than that, you could claim that the Press Complaints Commission was never a satisfactory regulatory body in the first place; that it merely represented a verisimilitude of regulation while ensuring that the industry it purported to regulate remained largely untouched, unpunished and as free as possible to do whatever the hell it liked, regardless of the consequences that certain publications’ actions had on the people featured in the stories, as well as the wider reading public.
If you felt that way, you would consider that reorganising the lego bricks of the PCC into a slightly different shape was perhaps an attempt to be seen to do something, anything, to avoid more stringent regulation being imposed or suggested when the Leveson inquiry came to its conclusion sometime in the near future — or to imply that all necessary changes have already been made, and therefore nothing else need be done.
I don’t necessarily feel that way, but I do think that the timing is important. For years many complaints and suggestions from campaigns and Joe Public about the activity and makeup of the PCC have been politely batted away. We didn’t know what we were on about; the PCC knew what was best for us (and in our best interests). Now, all of a sudden, it’s not fit for purpose anymore, and needs to be burnt to the ground. Well, what happened in the meantime? What happened between not needing to change and needing to start from the ground up?
Perhaps it is an admission that the PCC really wasn’t working. People saw that the industry had decided how it would be regulating itself, set up some guidelines and then broke them again and again, with no negative effects other than occasionally having to print the odd correction deep into the newspaper or tucked away on a website. Maybe enough was enough, and that really wasn’t good enough.
What’s clear is that in the meantime, the PCC (or what remains of it) says that it’s going to listen. I think that should mean not just listening to the likes of Lord Leveson, but listening to what the punters want. Do we want papers to be regulated at all, and if we do, how do we want that to happen? Is there a middle ground between complete freedom of expression, and insidious state control of the media? Has anyone asked you? Do you care?
It’s significant that this move for change is happening now in the wake of the phonehacking scandal; if it turns out to be change at all, and that still remains to be seen. If there really is a listening exercise going on then let the voices of the people who buy newspapers, and who end up featuring in them whether they want to or not, be heard. Otherwise we could end up with a replacement that is just as frustrating and just as disappointing as the PCC was.