PCC boss rules out fines for newspapers

By Dominic Ponsford

The Press Complaints Commission plans to write to newspaper owners
urging them to include the Editors Code of Practice in all journalists’
employment contracts.

This was one of a number of recommendations revealed by PCC chairman
Sir Christopher Meyer in a talk to the Society of Editors on Wednesday.

He also urged editors to give corrections and PCC adjudications “due prominence”.

He said: “I have seen real improvement over the last two years… But there is still more to do.”

However, Meyer ruled out the introduction of fines for newspapers that break the code, calling it a “disastrous” idea.

He
added: “Even if you could agree a tariff – which is a big if –
regulation would descend into a quagmire of adversarial legal battles,
in which the loser would be the complainant and the main beneficiary
the lawyer.”

He added: “The best argument against fines or
statutory regulation is the effectiveness and prominence of the
negative adjudication.

“Try to hide it away and you make the case for the enemies of the PCC.”

According
to Meyer, members of the PCC are becoming “concerned” about headlines –
“in particular where the headline effectively contradicts the whole
story”.

He said: “The PCC, mirroring the law, says that a headline must be read in conjunction with the text of an article.

This will continue to be our general approach.

“But
this does not mean that the commission will always reject complaints
just because there is, say, some balancing nugget of information at the
end of the piece.”

Although most companies make compliance with
the Code of Practice a contractual requirement for journalists and
editors, Meyer said that this was not yet the case for all of them.

He said: “It is an initiative that has helped raise editorial standards. It has underlined the PCC’s credibility.

“I
see no reason for it not to be as widespread as possible. I will
therefore shortly be writing to newspapers where it is not currently
the norm to find out whether and when it will be.”

Meyer, who was formerly the British ambassador to Washington, took up his PCC role in 2003.

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