Media ethics organisation PressWise has been quick to criticise the first proposals for reform of the Press Complaints Commission by its new chairman.
An old opponent of the commission, PressWise finds Sir Christopher Meyer’s plans “modest” and promises to continue to be a “burr under his saddle”.
“He clearly wants to see more transparency in the operations of the PCC, and places much emphasis on the influence of the lay majority, which he wishes to see increased [by one],” said associate director Bill Morris.
“But this begs the question of how and by whom the lay participants, and even the chairman himself, are appointed. Sir Christopher says with disarming frankness: ‘Last year persons in grey suits invited me to put forward my name for the post of the PCC.’ And apparently sees nothing amiss in this procedure.
“This is not to denigrate Sir Christopher’s fitness for the post. He may well be the best man for the job. But it smells to high heaven of the old-boy network and decisions taken in smoke-filled rooms.”
PressWise suggests one reform of the lay membership would be to include nominations from “experts” in the field, a category in which it includes itself.
“And though it is obviously important for editors to be represented, consideration should be given to awarding some of these places to working journalists,” Morris said.
He disparages Meyer’s ideas for an annual audit of the PCC’s activities by an independent panel and a yearly review of the Editors’ Code Committee because these will be overseen by the PCC and the committee.
While he thinks Meyer’s suggested “newsroom handbook” giving guidance on the Code of Practice is welcome, he wants it to include a clause allowing journalists to refuse assignments that breach the code, without incurring disciplinary action.
PressWise strongly disagrees with Meyer in his total rejection of any commission power to levy fines or award compensation. A system of fixed fines and compensation payments for offences against the code, graded according to the seriousness, would be simple and straightforward to implement, it argues.
By Jean Morgan