A Labour MP has called for the strengths of the Press Complaints Commission to be retained under any new system of press regulation.
Bridgend MP Madeleine Moon told the Commons yesterday that the PCC played a key role in her constituency during the “excessive coverage” of the suicide methods used by people who died in the area between 2007 and 2009.
She described the coverage as “the ethics of the press at their worst”.
“There was intrusion into people’s lives at the most painful and difficult of times,” she said. “There was a link built between the community of the county borough of Bridgend and suicide, which meant that anyone who lived there was tainted by a threat and a risk of living with suicide.
“Virtually the first question that young people who went for university or job interviews were asked was, ‘Are you all right? Are you going to commit suicide if you move away from Bridgend?’
“People who were considering moving their factories to the county borough said, ‘I don’t know—our people aren’t very happy about moving to Bridgend. It’s not a very safe place to live.’”
Moon claimed the intrusion became so bad that “children who were on their way to school were being stopped and offered sweets for quotes about those who had died”.
Parts of the national press were claiming Bridgend was in the drip of a “suicide death cult”
“I said to one of the editors who sat on the Press Complaints Commission, ‘You know that’s a lie,’ why are you running with this story?” said Moon.
“He replied: ‘That’s your fault. You didn’t come up with a better line for us and we needed a line to sell the story and the papers.’ They knew it was a lie, but they still carried the story.”
Moon said that for all the talk of the PCC being “weak and ineffective”, in Bridgend it had “within the bounds of its capability, it served my community well, and I will always say that”.
“It came to Bridgend and met the people,” she said.
“I think it was fairly shocked at the level of anger and at the fact that nobody had even heard of the PCC and did not know that it was an option to go to it.
“It was shocked at how frustrated the community was that an honest and decent story about the losses they were facing was not being told.
What the PCC did—I know that those people affected across Bridgend will be eternally grateful for this—was introduce desist notices, whereby people were able to say, ‘We do not wish to be contacted.’
The desist notices ended the intrusion, said Moon, but “they would not have had that from Ofcom, because it cannot interfere until after a programme has been broadcast”.
Under recommendations put forward by Lord Justice Leveson last week, Ofcom would become the backstop regulator to a new system of press regulation.
She also praised the PCC’s educational role.
“It has taken on a huge responsibility by going to schools of journalism and news rooms and talking about the impact of suicide reporting,” said Moon.
“Whatever regulation comes in, I would not want to lose that educational role. With the help of the PCC, I, along with eminent professors of suicide studies, met editors to explain to them the impact of their reporting.
“They admitted that, often, what drove the most excessive reporting was the fact that, to sell their papers, they had to keep hyping the story and making it bigger and more dramatic.
“The culture, ethics and standards fall apart as a result of that desperate desire to get the extra sale and new story that will make people buy one paper and not another. We have to do something about that, so that honesty and decency return to reporting.”
An Ofcom spokesman said: “Ofcom does not have any remit to review broadcast material before it is transmitted.
“We take any breaches of the Broadcasting Code extremely seriously and if the rules are broken, Ofcom will investigate and take appropriate enforcement action.”