Frost calls for working journalists to join PCC

Frost: says PCC needs to win journalists’ confidence

Calls for working journalists, rather than just editors, to be on the Press Complaints Commission were made at a London conference at the weekend.

Professor Chris Frost, chair of the NUJ ethics council, said when the PCC replaced the Press Council, representatives of working journalists were excluded and commissioners were now either editors or non-journalists.

“Editors bring in a particular perspective. Working journalists have a different perspective and there should be more of them on the PCC,” he told the Journalism and Public Trust conference, organised by the NUJ and MediaWise.

NUJ ethics council member Jake Ecclestone also told the conference: “If working journalists are excluded from selfregulation it is never going to win the confidence of working journalists.”

Frost suggested that the days when the ethics council sought to discipline NUJ members were over. He said it was legally “debatable that we would be able to expel a journalist for unethical behaviour”. Frost also claimed that the NUJ wanted solidarity among its members and there was no drive within the union for disciplinary action. “The ethics council doesn’t really do very much now in terms of disciplining members,” he said.

MediaWise director Mike Jempson told the conference: “Unions don’t have either the guts or procedures to discipline their members and that is a serious problem.”

He argued that the way to get the public to increase their trust in journalism was for journalists to be more willing to admit they make mistakes; for more papers to carry Guardian -style corrections columns; a right of reply to be guaranteed to those who feel they have been misreported; and better investigative journalism and improved training.

Jempson claimed: “When regulators strike they should make sure they bite. How many times was Piers Morgan found wanting before he got his comeuppance?” He also called for a “conscience clause” to be included in the Editors’ Code of Practice which would protect journalists who refused to write material they believed to be in breach of the code.

Professor Robert Pinker, on behalf of the PCC, told the conference that when the commission began its work in 1991 relations with editors were confrontational. “Over the years editors have become much more willing to make voluntary corrections and apologies,” he claimed.

Pinker added: “No editor had ever refused to carry a critical adjudication. This points to the conclusion that editors, whatever their faults and failings, are committed to upholding the code. The commission’s success in creating a new climate of conciliation and conflict resolution has never been accorded the recognition it merits.”

Pinker concluded: “The statutory alternatives are too awful to contemplate, as I am reminded on my frequent travels into Eastern Europe.”

By Jon Slattery

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