By Jean Morgan
Editors around the country are to write to their MPs who sit on the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee inquiry into media intrusion, to hammer home the effectiveness of press self-regulation.
Kaufman: committee chairman
The inquiry, which next month begins taking verbal evidence from people who feel they have been victims of media intrusion and from media organisations, is the latest threat facing a press that had thought itself well out of the last-chance saloon.
Editors likely to put pen to paper are Paul Horrocks, Manchester Evening News, whose MP is committee chairman Gerald Kaufman (Lab, Manchester Gorton); Roger Borrell, Birmingham Evening Mail (Julie Kirkbride, Con, Bromsgrove); and Barrie Williams, Western Morning News (Adrian Flook, Con, Taunton).
The Society of Editors, which will give its own evidence to the inquiry, has suggested its members whose patch includes MPs on the committee may want to tell the committee how effective the self-regulatory system has been over the past 10 years, that the Press Complaints Commission is fast, free and fair and how it helps editors deal with complaints.
Bob Satchwell, the society’s executive director, said: “It is possible a bit of proactive advice from the PCC before publication helps editors to avoid breaching the Code of Practice.”
The editors will explain that journalists are very much aware of the code, which is part of their training, and many of them carry the code with them in leaflet form to use in editorial decision-making.
They will make the point that the code and the PCC has led to improved standards in journalism, in both the regional and national press; that the code is dynamic and responsive to changes and is important for establishing a framework within which every journalist can work; and that it avoids expensive legal advice for both complainant and newspaper.
“The committee is particularly interested in how good the system is for people not normally involved in public life,” said Satchwell. “Regional papers have a particular view about that because that is the kind of person they are most often dealing with. Critical PCC adjudications are taken very seriously – no editor enjoys the prospect of having to publish such criticism.”
Editors are at the sharp end and see at first hand how satisfied their readers – with whom they develop close relationships – are with how they have dealt with complaints. The editors can also judge whether there is a proper balance between the democratic needs of a free press and individual privacy.
Editors are likely to tell the committee that the suggestion of a statutory state ombudsman could be seen as the first step towards Government censorship. They regard a privacy law as only for the rich and privileged.
Satchwell stressed it was entirely up to local editors whether to write.
lOther MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee are: Chris Bryant (Lab, Rhondda); Frank Doran (Lab, Aberdeen Central); Rosemary McKenna (Lab, Cumbernauld and Kilsyth); Michael Fabricant (Con, Lichfield); Debra Shipley (Lab, Stourbridge); John Thurso (LD, Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross); Alan Keen (Lab, Feltham and Heston); and Derek Wyatt (Lab, Sittingbourne and Sheppey).