Dacre, left, described Kelner’s attack on the PCC as “utterley depressing”
Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre has accused Independent editor Simon Kelner of betraying Fleet Street by attacking the PCC before a parliamentary committee.
“Kelner has enjoyed such a high standard of living out of Fleet Street, to betray the industry in that way was utterly unnecessary,” an angry Dacre told Press Gazette. “He sits on the moral high ground on his tiny, diminishing, heavily subsidised circulation and sits in judgement on the industry.” In his submission to the Commons select committee investigating press intrusion, Kelner advocated an ombudsman, possibly controlled by Ofcom, to hear appeals against Press Complaints Commissions decisions. He also called for working editors to be removed from the commission.
“His comments were yet again based on a total misconception of how the PCC works,” said Dacre. “His allegation that it is controlled by the editors is just nonsense and, more than that, is an insult to the integrity and the considerable intelligence and distinction of the lay members. It traduces their honour.”
Kelner’s suggestion that it would be better if retired editors sat on the commission “totally misunderstands how the PCC works”, said Dacre. “To say editors shouldn’t sit on the PCC would, at one stroke, destroy the sense of responsibility that comes with being involved in it. If they are not involved, they won’t feel any shame when their papers are censored by it.
“He can’t understand that the PCC is a voluntary body that 1,400 editors across Britain depend on. The tragedy is that the industry needs every opportunity to promote the PCC, to explain to our many critics that it does work, yet here we have an editor perpetrating the same myths about the PCC. It is just utterly, utterly depressing.”
Dacre said he was completely against an ombudsman. “Who’s going to appoint this ombudsman? Derry Irvine, Geoffrey Robinson, Stephen Byers? Once you do that, you have a political appointee trying to influence the press and for 600-700 years in this country, we have enjoyed freedom from that kind of thing. This will be the thin end of the wedge. That is not how press freedom works.”
lThe select committee met behind closed doors this week to hear complaints from members of the public.
The two-hour private meeting in a Commons committee room contrasted with the public sessions with editors – Paul Dacre last week, Simon Kelner this week – which have been held with press and public present.
Dacre’s defence of the PCC and its handling of complaints was broadcast last week by the BBC.
But broadcasters had no opportunity to broadcast Tuesday morning’s private session and journalists were not even told that the meeting was being held, or who gave evidence.
Editors did not know it had taken place until the public session on Tuesday afternoon, when Kelner was informed that one of the complaints concerned The Independent.
Select committee member Adrian Flook MP held up an old cutting of an Independent story about the premature death of babies at a hospital, and said: “This was an aggressive form of journalism. I can see why the individual was angry and upset.”
Kelner said he would write to the committee about the story but added that the reporter involved was “an award-winning journalist”.
Committee chairman Gerald Kaufman told Press Gazette it had met in private to allow members of the public to give “sensitive” evidence.
Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, said: “The first principle of justice is to know who your accusers are and what they say.
“I hope that when the committee considers its report, it will take account of the fact that there has been no opportunity for cross-examination or rebuttal.”
Kelner wants ombudsman
Simon Kelner of The Independent broke ranks with other editors to tell MPs he favoured a press ombudsman to hear complaints against newspapers.
He said that if the public were unhappy with decisions by the Press Complaints Commission, they should have the right of appeal to the ombudsman, who should come “under the umbrella” of new media regulator Ofcom.
“How can we have confidence in the PCC, whose director lives with someone who is very close to Prince Charles, who goes on holiday with the editor of the most complained-about newspaper in Britain, and who has just given his first interview in seven years just as he is about to leave the job?” said Kelner.
In evidence to the select committee, Kelner suggested working editors on the PCC should be replaced by former editors and all appointments should be made by an independent commission.
“If we want to build public trust in our industry, there has to be greater transparency by the PCC and greater accountability,” he said. “I don’t have any problem with there being some sort of ombudsman who sits above the PCC, possibly under the umbrella of Ofcom.
“To have an ombudsman who acts as a court of appeal and acts as a scrutineer over PCC judgements – I don’t see any downside to that for our industry. I only see the upside.”
Kelner’s evidence contrasted sharply with that of Dacre, who backed self-regulation.
Kelner told MPs:”One Paul Dacre arguing powerfully and passionately is worth 12 lay members.” But he added:”I don’t see why working editors should serve on the PCC.”
Kelner’s evidence will alarm editors who fear the all-party committee will recommend changes in the way the press is regulated in its report to Media Secretary Tessa Jowell.
Committee chairman Gerald Kaufman told Kelner:”You are making what I regard as an extremely constructive proposal.”
By Jean Morgan amd David Rose