Let's not undermine our own defences

Things have come on a bit since offending editors could end up with cropped ears. But their successors find no less painful (and not a lot less unsightly) the duty to publish Press Complaints Commission findings against them.

If they did not see this as a chastening experience, it would not be much of a penalty. Critics, however, are entitled to view the way editors handle PCC judgements as an index of respect for the body that stands between the press and statutory regulation.

It is thankfully a myth that adjudications get dumped at the foot of racing pages in 5pt type. Professional pride spawns subtler techniques.

The unbeckoning headline remains the time-dishonoured favourite, even with a paper famed for the perfect simplicity of "She thought he was an airline pilot" and the perfect complexity of "Nudist welfare man’s model wife fell for the Chinese hypnotist from the Co-op bacon factory."

What would be the News of the World’s headline on PCC adjudication 00-2122? "NoW RAPPED FOR EMMERDALE HARRASMENT"? Perhaps not. "NoW AND THE PCC"? Perhaps.

The headline that actually appeared was "Ms SALLIE RYLE".

How many readers held their breath at the name of Granada’s head of media relations north? How many went on to read the report of a NoW fishing expedition detected without catching a thing worth publishing?

The adjudication criticised the paper for taking covert video footage at a private Christmas party for the Emmerdale team. The paper unsuccessfully contended that, having heard of "wild behaviour" at previous parties, it had public interest justification for exploring whether this would recur.

Somehow, the News of the World managed to avoid any mention at all of the PCC, either by name or initials. The nearest it got was Kafkaesque references to "the commission".

Nor was there room for the PCC’s conclusion: "To have rejected the complaint would have given carte blanche to intrude into any private gathering where high-profile public figures might be present. Clearly such a position would provide an unacceptable manner of circumventing the privacy positions of the Editors’ Code, which apply to everyone whether famous or not."

Playing down or playing up the PCC does the press no favours.

It is vital to remind public and politicians of the successes of self-regulation. Indeed, it would be no bad thing to see an official PCC logo flagging up press reports to proclaim that it is alive and well and living at 1 Salisbury Square.

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