PCC: 'MPs have failed to acknowledge the work we do'

The Press Complaints Commission has hit back at a recommendation from MPs that it should have tougher powers and be able to suspend publication of newspapers in extreme cases.

In February the Media, Culture and Sport select committee condemned the PCC overs its investigation into phone hacking at the News of the World and its “failure to intervene in irresponsible press coverage following the disappearance of Madeleine McCann in February”.

Committee chairman John Whittingdale said the PCC needed to take a more active role in upholding standards because it is seen as “lacking credibility and authority” . The report named “Press Standards, Privacy and Libel” called for an appointment of a deputy director to enforce standards and for the PCC to be renamed the “Press Complaints and Standards Board” to reflect it’s enhanced power.

The PCC has published in full on its website a letter from director Stephen Abell to the select committee.

But here are some extracts:

“The Commission believes that the Select Committee has failed to acknowledge the current level of proactive work undertaken by the PCC, and the extent to which the PCC is already concerned with the raising of standards.

“Last year, the Commission issued over 1600 rulings, and negotiated over 600 settlements, which demonstrated an effective record of holding editors to account. Recent PCC rulings have set clear standards on, for example, the reporting of suicide, pregnancy, material taken from social networking sites, transgender issues, the prominence of apologies and more.

“The Commission also acts several times a week to help prevent media harassment, by communicating concerns from affected parties – including some of the most vulnerable people in the community – across the industry. This is a bespoke service, which we believe could not be replicated by any other system.”

“The Commission also regularly seeks to contact potential complainants, to help individuals shape their concerns effectively and to ensure that those at the centre of news stories are aware of our services. In the Commission’s view, the work it did in Bridgend (even if it could have done more), and more generally in the field of suicide reporting, represents a positive example of its proactive approach, which was under-valued by the Select Committee.”

Responding to the severe criticisms MPs made of the PCC over the way journalists reported on the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, Abell said:

“It would not have been possible, contrary to the Select Committee’s assertions, for the Commission to have come to an independent view in May 2007 on questions of accuracy or impropriety in the reporting of the McCann case…

“The PCC would clearly have needed information from those at the centre of the story to do so. At that point, the Commission had already sought to engage with the McCanns and make itself available to offer all necessary assistance. The McCanns publicly thanked the PCC for its work in dealing with harassment and protecting the privacy of their children”.

In the case of the News of the World Abell said that the PCC’s primary purpose was to “seek to ensure a change in practice at the News of the World, as well as to confirm best practice within the industry as a whole”.

Abell concluded:

“At present, the Commission believes its powers are effective, and can point to a culture in which its sanctions have real impact.”

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