Press Complaints Commission: No independence and no prominence

The day after the ever courageous media commentator Roy Greenslade criticised the Irish newspapers which have reportedly been ordered to pay an innocent defamation victim €500,000 for dragging their feet in settling the case, he also criticised the newspapers for not publishing apologies and corrections with the same prominence as the original articles. Mr Greenslade is not normally one to chime in with one of the (perhaps unsurprisingly) less reported pleas of Heather Mills: that apologies and corrections published by the press should enjoy the same prominence as the offending articles.

Heather Mills has stated that she is going to campaign for a European law on this issue. The European Parliament has already spoken on the subject, and it agrees with her. A resolution adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted on 26 June 1998 provides at paragraph 14(iii) as follows:

When editors have published information that proves to be false, they should be required to publish equally prominent corrections at the request of those concerned.

The Chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, Sir Christopher Meyer, twice told the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, while giving evidence on the issue of press regulation, that corrections and apologies should be at least as prominent as the original article. He even went so far as to describe the alternative as “ridiculous”.

Unfortunately, the PCC has acted rather differently in practice, and despite the unequivocal public statements of its chairman, the PCC has approved apologies and corrections around 5% of the size of the offending article. It has done so in the face of objections from complainants that such an obvious discrepancy is fair neither to the complainant nor to the general public which has the right (according to Article 10 of the ECHR) to be disabused of false information published by the press.

A clue to the reason for this spectacular discrepancy between words and action emerged from an address given by the PCC’s international consultant, Professor Robert Pinker, at a recent media law seminar, where he described the PCC’s “dual roles as a defender of press freedoms and of citizens from abuses of those freedoms by the press”. Fighting both sides of the same battle at the same time is of course impossible, no less in regulation of an institution than in battle.

The proposition that the Independent Police Complaints Commission should merge with the Police Federation so that one body both protected the interests of policemen and dealt with complaints by the general public about policeman would of course be regarded as absurd.

The day after the IPCC published its report into the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, criticising the police, is perhaps a good one on which to make the point that this is nevertheless precisely the regulatory system which we have in this country for the press. The suggestion that the family of Jean Charles de Menezes should be reliant for a just adjudication of their grievances on an organisation funded by the police, appointed by the police, with a code of practice drafted by the police, and where seven of the 17 Commissioners were serving policeman would, to use Sir Christopher Meyer’s word, be ridiculous”. That is, however, the system of press regulation which we currently tolerate in this country despite its obvious inadequacy for the role and its systemic press bias.

The PCC should be allowed to fulfil its real role as a lobby group for ensuring press freedom. A new independent press complaints body should deal with the complaints of the general public so that justice is not only done when complaints are made, but is seen to be done.

See Also:




The PCC continues to contradict its Chairman
The Culture, Media & Sports Committee tell it like it is

Bulletins are for general guidance only. Legal advice should be sought before taking action in relation to specific matters. Where reference is made to Court decisions facts referred to are those reported as found by the Court. Please note that past bulletins included in the Archive have not been updated by any subsequent changes in statute or case law.