Call for statutory regulation

By David Rose

The NUJ this week threw its support behind an all-party demand for a
new press watchdog to force editors to correct mistakes and give people
the right of reply.

The present voluntary system under which newspapers regulate
themselves through the Press Complaints Commission would be axed and
replaced by a Press Standards Board appointed by the Government.

Editors who refused to comply would not go to jail, but newspapers could be ordered to pay any costs incurred by the board.

A
private members' bill, the Right of Reply and Press Standards Bill,
would give people a statutory right to correct significant factual
inaccuracies.

If editors did not agree to publish corrections
within three days, the complainant could take their case to an
independent adjudicator backed by a Press Standards Board, whose
rulings would be enforceable through the courts.

The Bill has been introduced by Labour MP Peter Bradley, but has attracted cross-party support.

Other
sponsors include Tory MPs Sir Sydney Chapman and Robert Walter, Liberal
Democrat Paul Tyler, Labour MPs Clive Soley, Angela Eagle, Tony
Worthington and Dr Alan Whitehead, and journalists-turned- MPs Martin
Linton and Sion Simon.

Bradley told a press conference at the
Commons: "Self-regulation doesn't work. It is 15 years since David
Mellor said the press were drinking at the last chance saloon. If
self-regulation was going to work, it would have worked by now."

He
said that too often the lives and livelihoods of ordinary people were
damaged by a newspaper's inaccuracies and too often their complaints
were ignored.

However, Bradley insisted his Bill would not
infringe press freedom, but ensure facts were checked before
publication and raise journalistic standards.

NUJ general
secretary Jeremy Dear claimed the PCC "takes the side of the paper
rather than the citizen. Many complainants end up with either an
inadequate response, such as a letter, or with nothing, and are left
with a grudge against journalists and the press that is no good for
anyone.

"A simple measure requiring factual inaccuracies to be
corrected would be a step in the right direction."However, with a
general election looming, the Bill is unlikely to make further progress.

It has also received no support from the Government, which continues to back self-regulation through the PCC.

Bradley, MP for Wrekin, said he had no complaint against his local newspaper, the Shropshire Star .

"I
am happy with the standards of local journalism," he said. "If
journalists and news editors had an extra five minutes a day to check
what they are saying, we should get better standards of journalism."

Reaction

IS A RIGHT OF REPLY BILL NECESSARY?

Society of Editors executive director Bob Satchwell said: "The Code
of Practice is already powerful on accuracy and corrections. The
overwhelming majority of complaints are resolved to the satisfaction of
complainants without the PCC having to adjudicate.

"In other words, editors must be giving people the right of reply.
Few editors would go along with the idea that the PCC 'sides' with the
papers.

"Peter Bradley's Bill misses two key points. There have
been dramatic improvements since David Mellor accused the press of
drinking in the last chance saloon. The idea we have self-regulation
has been overtaken. The PCC has a majority of lay members."

A PCC
spokesman said: "What the PCC is designed to do is respond to
complaints from ordinary members of the public and it does this every
day, often securing corrections for inaccuracies. In cases where there
is an issue under the code, the PCC negotiates appropriate action from
newspapers in 95 per cent of cases."

He added that of 400 people who responded to a PCC survey, some 60 per cent said they were satisfied with its work.

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