Acting chairman Professor Robert Pinker and Press Complaints Commission officials are shortly to make a round of national newspaper editors to talk about possible reform of the commission.
But Pinker, currently at a Commonwealth Press Union seminar in Sri Lanka, is keen that any debate will include the entire industry – 1,300 regional and local newspapers and thousands of magazines – not just a few newspaper editors in London.
In a double-page spread this week, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger set out his views on reform, advocating readers’ editors at each newspaper, as The Guardian has in Ian Mayes, to be the frontline dealers in conciliation or correction.
This would leave the commission, he argued, to have "a better-defined role of acting as backstop in the comparatively rare cases where self-regulation has failed.
It would spend less time in mediation and more on adjudications."
The PCC already tells every complainant to go directly to the publication they complain of, but there are always those who eschew this path and want the commission to deal with them from the start.
In a speech to the seminar, Pinker stressed the role of the commission as both mediator and conciliator but conceded that from time to time there would be criticism of this system.
"The press isn’t perfect and neither is the PCC," he said.
"There will always be those who argue we should be more proactive -although that is, in my view, a path fraught with practical difficulty and philosophical danger. There will be some who say we should conciliate less and adjudicate more – although I fear that would mean we are of less use to the ordinary people who rely on our service most."
He made plain he was happy to have debates, provided that they ended up strengthening self-regulation and not handing ammunition to detractors.
"My door will always be open to those who have constructive suggestions to make for its improvement," he said.
But he warned: "One point I want to make crystal clear. The thing above all else I am determined to avoid is that the two fundamental tenets of our system – the sanctity of the Code and the jurisdiction of a clearly independent body – are not in any way damaged."
Rusbridger compared the commission’s total of 2,225 complaints about the industry in 2000 with the 7,634 The Guardian had received and suggested it was not a rigorous self-policing mechanism. "If we were to add in every single phone call we got, the 7,000 would pale into insignificance," said a senior commission source.
By Jean Morgan