PCC ruling on prisoners 'Archer' diary

The commission ruled that The Guardian was in breach of Clause 17 of the Code of Practice, which refers to payment to criminals, because it paid prisoner John Williams £720 for his diary that included encounters in jail with Jeffrey Archer.

It ruled the piece was not sufficiently in the public interest to merit payment, supported by the fact it had been presented as a feature rather than a news piece. It also said the newspaper’s argument that other papers had carried similar information proved that the payment was unnecessary.

The Guardian argued that it had paid Williams the standard rate for the piece and there had been substantial coverage of Archer’s life in prison, so it was justified in publishing a unique account of how he had been treated and how he had behaved while inside. It said that to find a breach of the code would be to interfere with the newspaper’s and Williams’s right to freedom of expression.

In its adjudication, the commission wrote that it “wished to make it clear that its concern was not that Williams had been paid for an article commenting generally on prison conditions from the perspective of the prisoner (which may well be legitimate in the public interest).

“Rather, its concern was that he appeared to have been paid for an opportunistic article based on the notoriety of Jeffrey Archer, with whom Williams had come into contact only because of Williams’s own crime and subsequent punishment.”

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