There had to be at least one moment of utter madness in the press conference unveiling the select committee report into press intrusion. Gerald Kaufman’s band of buffoons didn’t disappoint. It fell to Labour MP Derek Wyatt to provide it by suggesting that a newspaper guilty of breaking the Press Complaints Commission’s Code of Practice could be banned from going on sale the following day.
It was a barmy, top-of-the-head suggestion that summed up the – let’s put it kindly – eccentric approach to the brief that the committee had pursued from the word go. Its choice of witnesses, its virtual disregard of the regional press, its decision to hold some sessions behind closed doors, its occasionally breathtaking ignorance of newspaper practice had hardly inspired the newspaper executives that had been paraded before it like so many errant schoolchildren.
Given that, it was almost a surprise that someone didn’t go further and suggest offending editors be made to parade naked around the Tower of London with a rose up one nostril and a copy of the adjudication up the other.
Still, there was time for varying degrees of other confusion. The report calls for “legislative proposals to clarify the protection that individuals can expect from unwarranted intrusion by anyone – not the press alone – into their private lives”. A privacy law, by the sounds of things.
So effectively an end to self-regulation then? Er, no. Kaufman told the conference that “while… we suggest a privacy law, nevertheless we support the principles of self-regulation”. That’s cleared that up then.
Anyway, given that the Government had already ruled out any introduction of a privacy law, shouldn’t we be dismissing the committee report as “a vacuous exercise in self-indulgence by a bunch of busy-body MPs with too much time on their hands” (© Piers Morgan).
Well, before we do, let’s give credit for the more sensible of the 34 proposals that Sir Christopher Meyer will undoubtedly at least consider as he continues his own spring cleaning of the system: the prominence of adjudications published by transgressing newspapers, for example; the selection process of committee members; the inclusion of lay members on the Code Committee; or league tables of worst offenders, or a “conscience clause” for journalists who feel they’re being pressurised to break the code.
Then we can file it in a drawer and and not worry if we lose the key.