Ban on media scrums 'welcome'

Scrum down: calls for a voluntary ban

Media minister Estelle Morris has told editors the Government would welcome a voluntary ban on media scrums developing outside the homes of ordinary people.

The Press Complaints Commission and media regulator Ofcom have already held one meeting to discuss the issue following pressure from MPs for an industry-supported clampdown.

Following its inquiry last year into media intrusion, the Commons media select committee urged Ofcom and broadcasters to engage with the PCC to develop ways of tackling media scrums.

Welcoming the contact between the PCC and Ofcom, Morris told the Commons: “The media scrum is awful and ought not to happen to ordinary people – it is pretty awful when it happens to anyone.

“I would welcome any agreement under which that would not happen to ordinary people, but the media would be able to gather the information that they need to serve democracy and to inform the public.

I welcome the fact that that meeting has taken place and hope that it will come to something.”

Morris said she expected more meetings between the PCC and Ofcom.

Labour chairman of the committee Gerald Kaufman said public figures knew how “intimidating” an “agglomeration of microphones” could be when they were thrust into their face by doorstepping journalists.

“It can be incomparably more alarming for private individuals, whose predicament as victims of crime or as bereaved relatives is hard enough to bear in itself.

“It is made worse by the sieges that can sometimes take place, with pavement mobs, access to and from their homes blocked and telephone lines jammed by incessant, unwanted calls. All that can range to remote members of their families.”

Morris told MPs debating the committee’s report that the Government, however, remained opposed to a privacy law.

“It would be the first time in 400 years that there was that statutory underpinning of the way in which the press behaves.

“Such a law would step across the boundary between a free press and public interest, and it would be a huge step for very little extra.”

The Government, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats welcomed PCC chairman Sir Christopher Meyer’s offer to have regular meetings with the all-party committee. The BBC chairman and director general already meet the committee on a regular basis.

The MPs are expected to invite the PCC chairman to update it on progress he has made since recommending a number of reforms including appointing more lay members.

Its recommendation for the PCC to fine editors for serious breaches has, however, been rejected by the PCC – and the Government.

By David Rose

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