'Public confidence in PCC is crucial': Jowell

Meyer revealed reform plans to the NS this month

Media Secretary Tessa Jowell warned editors this week the Government would continue to back the Press Complaints Committee, but it must command public confidence.

She pledged her conditional support for self-regulation as chairman Sir Christopher Meyer faced a grilling from MPs over his plan to reform the PCC.

Meyer, Alastair Campbell’s predecessor at Downing Street when John Major was Prime Minister, was summoned to give evidence to Gerald Kaufman’s Commons select committee, inquiring into media intrusion.

The committee had already taken evidence from PCC director Guy Black and had started considering its report, which is expected to be published at the end of the month.

Meyer received his invitation to give evidence after outlining his eight-point plan for reform of the commission. His proposals, unveiled to the Newspaper Society annual lunch, includes the appointment of a “charter commissioner” to review the PCC’s handling of complaints.

Jowell told MPs at media questions that she had already met Meyer to discuss his ideas. “He has made clear his open-mindedness on the case for reform and his wish to canvass opinion on that and other suggested areas of improvement.”

Labour MP Clive Soley told Jowell the PCC would continue to fail to inspire public confidence until it changed the committee, which writes its code, so that it no longer was made up of 100 per cent newspaper employees.

He said the PCC should also develop a proactive stance so that members of the public had confidence that what they read in news columns had “at least some accuracy and some impartiality, with creative literature being kept to the comment columns”.

Jowell told him: “The Government has no intention of seeking to interfere with self-regulation of the press. That is a matter for the press. But in parallel with that is the importance of public confidence and trust in self-regulation.”

She noted that Meyer took both points seriously.

The inquiry has already opened up a division between, in one camp Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger and The Independent’s Simon Kelner, and in the other the Daily Mail’s Paul Dacre, the Daily Mirror’s Piers Morgan, The Sun’s Rebekah Wade and Andy Coulson of the News of the World.

While the tabloids back the PCC’s present handling of complaints, the broadsheet editors have called for an ombudsman, perhaps accountable to new media regulator Ofcom, to hear appeals against the PCC’s decisions.

Meyer’s reforms were seen as an attempt to head off moves in Parliament to bring the PCC under Ofcom.

Liberal Democrat peer Lord McNally has already said he will introduce an amendment to the communications bill to force a vote, in the expectation that the select committee will call for further reforms and an independent appeals procedure to review PCC rulings.

By David Rose

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