Rift deepens as editors clash over future of PCC

Committee hearings have split broadsheet and tabloid editors

National broadsheet and tabloid editors are riven over their attitude to the Press Complaints Commission. Their contradictory evidence this week to a parliamentary committee on how self-regulation of the press is working, has revealed a deep split.

Lining up in support of extra controls on the press in the form of an ombudsman or an appeal panel to oversee PCC adjudications have been Simon Kelner of the The Independent, Alan Rusbridger of The Guardian and Charles Moore of The Daily Telegraph. Moore is believed not to be proposing to make a submission to the Media, Sport and Culture select committee inquiry into press intrusion.

Paul Dacre of the Daily Mail, who last week accused Kelner in Press Gazette of betraying Fleet Street with his views, Piers Morgan of the Daily Mirror, Rebekah Wade of The Sun and Andy Coulson of the News of the World have all thrown their weight behind the PCC in its current form.

Both Rusbridger and Kelner argue for an ombudsman. Moore told Press Gazette: “I don’t want legislation. I’m very open, particularly with the arrival of Christopher Meyer [the new chairman of the PCC], to trying to make the PCC more rigorous and better at representing the small complainant.”

But Moore said he would not rule out the idea of a panel or an ombudsman, suggested by Rusbridger and Kelner, to hear appeals against commission decisions.

“I think the procedures of the PCC are all much too subjective and slanted in favour of the papers, so I would want them to change. But precisely how they change, I think we ought to discuss. I don’t think I would definitely favour one particular system at this point,” he said.

Broadsheet editors have also advocated retired editors sitting on the PCC rather than working editors.

Last week Dacre argued that having an ombudsman would mean having a political appointee trying to influence the press and that to appoint retired editors was to misunderstand how the commission worked, destroying the sense of responsibility of editors involved with it.

Robin Esser, chairman of the parliamentary and legal committee of the Society of Editors, said: “This is the thin end of the wedge for Government control of newspapers.

“I am very surprised editors of papers with a democratic position can’t see that. A press ombudsman would be financed by the Government and tied to the Government purse strings. It seems to me to suit a dictatorship rather than a democracy.”

Paul Dacre, editor-in-chief of Associated Newspapers, is in hospital having a routine heart operation. He is expected to be there for a few weeks.

By Jean Morgan

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