Critics put pressure on the PCC to open up case files

By David Rose

Lord Falconer is to consult on controversial proposals which critics
hope will force the Press Complaints Commission to open its files to
show how it arrives at its rulings.

The Lord Chancellor (pictured right)n will launch a consultation
exercise later this year to decide whether the Freedom of Information
Act should be extended to private bodies carrying out a public function.

Subjecting
the industry’s independent regulator to the same Act that applies to
Whitehall departments and public bodies such as local councils would be
hugely controversial, and entail a dramatic change of policy by the
Government.

Until now it has opposed making the PCC subject to
the FoI Act, as that would mean designating it a public body, which it
argues would not be compatible with its support for an independent body
overseeing press regulation.

But pressure for it to think again
has come from the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, whose
co-chairman Julian Petley has written to Lord Falconer to say he has
compiled a dossier of dissatisfied complainants upset by PCC rulings.

“What
many complainants particularly disliked was the way in which it
stitched up behind-the-scenes deals with offending newspapers and then
presented these to complainants on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis,”
Petley told the Lord Chancellor.

“Were the PCC to be considered a
public authority in this context, then a complainant unhappy at their
treatment by the commission could ask to see all correspondence
relating to their complaint. Journalists were at the forefront of those
calling for a Freedom of Information Act. It is extremely puzzling that
the body which is supposed to regulate their profession evades the Act
altogether.”

He wrote to the Lord Chancellor to formally request
the Government to rule that the PCC should be considered a public body
for the purposes of the FoI Act. Before the May election the then media
minister, Estelle Morris, rejected a similar plea from Clive Soley,
then aLabour MP. “The Freedom of Information Act does not apply to the
PCC as it is not a public authority,” she told Soley. “The Government
strongly believes that a press free from any state intervention is
fundamental to democracy.”

A spokesman for Lord Falconer’s
Department for Constitutional Affairs told Press Gazette: “There will
be a consultation later this year on whether to bring private bodies
carrying out a public function under the scope of the Act.”

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