The Press Complaints Commission‘s decision to conduct a wholesale review of the way the organisation is run has been cautiously welcomed by two of its strongest critics.
While welcoming the decision, independent journalistic ethics charity, the Media Standards Trust, said it was important the review was both wholly independent and seen to be independent.
MediaWise said there was something “a tad disingenuous” about appointing PCC commissioner Vivien Hepworth to lead the review.
Hepworth is stepping down early from the Commission to conduct the six-month investigation alongside two other independent members and a figure with “senior experience of the newspaper and magazine industry.”
Mike Jempson, director of MediaWise, said: “Scepticism may be assuaged if this turns out not to be an editor who has already served on the Commission, nor one whose publication has had to be censured.
“And it would be healthy if Ms Hepworth were to take on board one of the legion of the critics the PCC has attracted over the years.”
Jempson said the National Union of Journalists may want to ask why working journalists have been excluded from the involvement at the highest levels of the PCC.
He said the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom may also wish to raise concerns about the PCC being shielded from Freedom of Information requests and also suggested the review should consider the PCC’s refusal to accept third party complaints.
Jempson added: “Civil society groups are often best placed to represent the interests of asylum-seekers and refugees, people with mental health issues, young people, hospital patents, victims of crime, relatives of disaster victims, families of prisoners, etc. Yet third party complaints are in the main, rejected by the PCC.”
The real question, he added, was why PCC’s new chairman, Baroness Peta Buscombe, considered it the right time for a “fresh and independent look.”
He said: “Is it because the burgeoning scandals of press malpractice in recent years make such a review inevitable?
“Is it because the press fear a backlash from politicians whose own unethical antics have so recently been exposed to public scrutiny?
“Or is it perhaps because year on year the number of complaints the PCC is struggling to deal with is increasing in inverse proportion to falling newspaper revenues?”
Martin Moore, director of the MST, said: “We’re delighted that the PCC has announced a review of its operations and we will be as helpful as we can.
“Our interest is in making the system of press self-regulation effective on behalf of the public, as well as protecting the press.”
The Trust caused former PCC chairman, Sir Christopher Meyer, to react furiously when it published the first stage of a report into the watchdog’s operations earlier this year claiming press self-regulation was not working and required radical change if it was to secure trust among the public.
Its scathing findings called for reform saying self-regulation was “not sustainable in its present form.”
Meyer called the findings a “cuttings job masquerading as a serious inquiry”.
The Trust today reiterated its call for reform for greater transparency and accountability, saying: “We are very pleased that the PCC’s review will look at these issues alongside its operation and constitution.”
The root and branch review of the PCC was announced yesterday by Baroness Buscombe, who took over the organisations chairmanship from Meyer in March.