Meyer: book row has embarrassed PCC

The
Press Complaints Commission is to review its rules and procedures
following the row over the controversial memoirs of Sir Christopher
Meyer.

The move, clearly designed to safeguard confidence in the
newspaper industry’s self-regulation, is to ensure that rules dealing
with potential conflicts of interest between the chairman and
commission members are robust and transparent.

Sir Christopher revealed the review today when he again faced demands , which he rejected, to step down as PCC chairman.

Labour
MPs claimed DC Confidential, his memoirs as Washington Ambassador, had
breached trust with ministers, and made him unfit to chair the
independent body which investigate complaints against the press.

But,
while Sir Christopher robustly defended himself against hostile
cross-examination by the Commons Public Adminstration Committee, he
acknowledged that “the situation has given rise to concerns and
embarrassment’ for the PCC.

“Members of the PCC have met to
discuss the criticism, and agreed to work with me to strengthen public
confidence in our work further,” he told MPs.

” As an immediate
step the PCC has decided to review the rules and procedures relating to
potential conflicts of interest incurred by the chairman, commission
members or the secretariate to ensure that they are robust and
transparent. The outcome of this review will be made public.”

Former
Cabinet Secretary Lord Turnbull raised a question mark over Sir
Christopher’s new role when he gave evidence to the committee before
the PCC chairman was called in.

“What confidence can a minister
of officials have in presenting a complaint about something which is
written in serialisation having him in the chair when he has engaged in
his trade himself?”

He said the Press Standards Board of Finance,
which appoints the PCC, included editors who engaged in buying
serialisation rights of books.

But Sir Christopher deflected the
criticism by pointing out that complaints, under the press Code of
Practice, were adjucated by the Commission as a whole. The Commission
consists ofr 10 lay people, including the chairman, and seven editors.

“If
a specific conflict of interest arises, this is notified to the board
and the member concerned takes no part in the direction, investigation,
resolution or adjucation.”

He said the serialisation of DC
Confidential in the Guardian and the Daily Mail had been approved by
the Press Standards Board of Finance.

He said:”I remain deeply committed to the successful self-regulation of the press and to the independence of the PCC.”

Labour
MP Paul Flynn denounced DC Confidential as an “unpleasant book” and
questioned whether Sir Christopher was fit to remain chairman after
publishing what he described as tittle tattle.

“Entirely fit,”
Sir Christopher replied. “There are a lot of people out there who do
not think this book is a mass of tittle tattle.”

Labour MP Gordon
Prentice asked him:”If there was a vacancy now as chairman of the PCC
do you think you would be a credible candidate.”

Sir Christopher said the short answer was “yes” but described the question as “extraordinary”.

But he emphasised:”There will be no PCC Confidential.”

He also clashed with chairman Tony Wright over whether the Cabinet Office had cleared the book for publication.

“I
finished this book on September 13 this year. On October 7 the
manuscript was given to the Cabinet Office as requesxted and as
expected by the rules. It emerged from the Cabinet Office two weeks
later.

“We got a phone call from the Cabinet Office to my
publishers, saying the Government had no comment to make on this book.
I interpretated that, as did everybody else, as that was a green light.”

Openly
laughing at the answer, Mr Wright said:”People thought this was a
wholly disreputable exercise. You were going to publish the book
anyway.”

* The backlash over Sir Christopher’s book could delay
the publication of Alistair Campbell’s diaries which he kept while Tony
Blair’s Press Secretary.

Lord Turnbull urged the committee to
recommend tightening the rules governing publication of memoirs. Mr
Prentice asked Lord Turnbull:”Do you think Alistair Campbell should be
able to publish his diary the day after the Prime Minister quits?”

Lord
Turnbull replied:”No. The Prime Minister may have left the stage but m
any of the people he will have been talking to will still be there.”

He
suggested there should be a further period of quarantine before the
diaries, which Campbell was described as “his pension”, could be
published.

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