Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Reactions to the 'Press standards, privacy and libel' report

The Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee has published its long-awaited report on Press standards, privacy and libel today. (Full coverage at MediaGuardian)

It is an extremely wide-ranging report and has many very good recommendations for changing the Press Complaints Commission, including several that have been supported by this blog. (The attempt to ban newspapers from printing for a day for serious transgressions is a very poor recommendation, however).

On the issue of fines, the Committee recommends that:

in cases where a serious breach of the Code has occurred, the PCC should have the ability to impose a financial penalty.

On the placement of apologies:

Corrections and apologies should be printed on either an earlier, or the same, page as that first reference, although they need not be the same size.

That would mean front page apologies for front page stories which are wrong. This change should be implemented immediately because the 'due prominence' wording in the current Code of Practice clearly is not working.

On sacking Paul Dacre as Chair of the Code of Practice Committee:

We further recommend that there should be lay members on the Code Committee, and that one of those lay members should be Chairman of that Committee.

Absolutely. However, there is a shocking quote in the report from Dacre. He told the Committee:

"It is a matter of huge shame if an editor has an adjudication against him; it is a matter of shame for him and his paper. That is why self-regulation is the most potent form of regulation, and we buy into it. We do not want to be shamed."

Firstly: bollocks. Secondly: Dacre and the Mail have shame?

The MPs added that lay members should be a majority on the decision-making Commission, which should also include journalists, rather than just editors:

We recommend that the membership of the PCC should be rebalanced to give the lay members a two thirds majority, making it absolutely clear that the PCC is not overly influenced by the press.

This, the Committee says, would:

enhance the credibility of the PCC to the outside world.

Which is, of course, urgently needed. The MPs add:

However for confidence to be maintained, the industry regulator must actually effectively regulate, not just mediate. The powers of the PCC must be enhanced, as it is toothless compared to other regulators.

It's all pretty damning about the PCC, but things will only improve if these changes are implemented to give the regulator those much-needed teeth.

It was also highly critical of the Daily Express, which several years ago refused to pay its subscriptions to the self-regulatory system. The MPs called this action:


From Peter Hill and Richard Desmond, that shouldn't be surprising.

But the report was especially damning about the News of the World over their illegal phone-hacking activities. The report says these were not restricted to one 'rogue reporter':

Evidence we have seen makes it inconceivable that no-one else at the News of the World, bar Clive Goodman, knew about the phone-hacking....[which] went to the heart of the British establishment, in which police, military royals and government ministers were hacked on a near industrial scale.

Moreover, the MPs are brutal in their judgements about the News of the World and News International employees who came before them:

Throughout our inquiry, too, we have been struck by the collective amnesia afflicting witnesses from the News of the World.


Throughout we have repeatedly encountered an unwillingness to provide the detailed information that we sought, claims of ignorance or lack of recall, and deliberate obfuscation. We strongly condemn this behaviour which reinforces the widely held impression that the press generally regard themselves as unaccountable and that News International in particular has sought to conceal the truth about what really occurred.


For a clear example of this amnesia, look through the oral evidence and the exchanges between Philip Davies MP, current News of the World Editor Colin Myler and Tom Crone, the Legal Manager at News Group Newspapers (Q.1411-1418).

Davies was trying to find out who authorised the payments to Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire, the bin-rummager who did the phone-hacking, which was paid after their release from prison. As if they was being paid to shut up, or something...

Q1416 Philip Davies: Just while we are on the theme, has any payment been subsequently made to Clive Goodman?

Mr Crone: I am certainly not aware of it.

Mr Myler: Again, likewise, I am not aware of any payment.

Q1417 Philip Davies: If a payment had been made, would you be aware of it?

Mr Crone: Not necessarily. Mr Kuttner would.

Q1418 Philip Davies: So this is a question for Mr Kuttner?

Mr Crone: I would say so.

And when Stuart Kuttner, the News of the World's Managing Editor, came before the Committee later that day:

Q1578 Philip Davies: We are obviously not going to make any further headway there. Have you made any payments to either Glenn Mulcaire or Clive Goodman since they were convicted of their offence?

Mr Kuttner: So far as I know agreements were made with them. I have no details at all of the substance of those agreements and so I cannot go beyond that.

Q1579 Philip Davies: Could you tell us who can because when I asked Mr Crone the same question he seemed to think that you were the person to ask.

Mr Kuttner: Well, in which case that is simply not so.

So Crone said Kuttner would know. Kuttner said he didn't know and he didn't know who would know.

Given that Kuttner has been Managing Editor of the News of the World for 22 years 'collective amnesia' seems a rather generous description.

Needless to say, News International were not happy with the report. They issued a ridiculous statement (pdf) which whined that the Committee had failed to act without:

bias or external influence.

This comes after Crone (Q.1329) had tried to get Labour MP Tom Watson kicked off the Committee (he was suing The Sun at the time - and won) and Kuttner wanted Davies removed from it too (Q.1572).

'External influence'

The statement went on to complain about the Committee's:




and said it had

repeatedly violated public trust.

For the publishers of the Sun and the News of the World to accuse others of those things is almost beyond parody.

The Sun's article on the 167-page report ran to just five paragraphs, which consisted of how the report had been 'hijacked' by Labour MPs. Had it really? Tom Watson said not:

570 clauses agreed unanimously, 4 were voted on, 3 of them opposed by a single MP.

That's some hijacking. As if to prove they had something to hide, the Sun were not taking any comments on this story on their website.

Their editorial was equally pathetic and designed to make petty political points, categorically failing to engage with the substance of the report:

Note 'unfounded claims' by the Guardian. Well, the Guardian's exposing of the News of the World's payment to Gordon Taylor wasn't unfounded. And if News International think it's all unfounded, why not sue?

Of course, the report did include many pages of insight and recommendations on privacy, libel and the McCann case.

But because the MPs dared take on the Sun's sister paper, its work was deemed 'worthless'. How grown up.

More astonishing was the reaction of Sky, which is in the same Murdoch stable as the News of the World, and which tried to pretend nothing had happened.

Here's the BBC's teletext news headlines this morning:

Second story. And on Sky Text it was here:

Oh rather, wasn't here. Still at least Sky News had it prominently on their website:

Oh no, it wasn't in their top 15 stories by early afternoon. Surely they wouldn't just bury it below some photo gallery of a pop star and a footballer:

Ah they would.

And even then it doesn't concentrate on the libel recommendations, or the reform of the PCC or the McCanns, that the Sun was complaining about. No, they've made it deliberately party political by referring to it in terms of 'Cam's man', as former editor Andy Coulson now works for David Cameron.

And on Tuesday night, during the Sky News press review, the News International line was already clear. They were faced with this:

What to do? Journalist Mark Seddon began to talk about the inquiry and the claims against the News of the World. Sat next to him was a journalist from the Times (also owned by News International), who butted in to say the phone-hacking had been looked at over and over and it's a non-story now.

Well, if the News International people would tell the truth for once, there wouldn't need to be constant enquiries into the sordid affair.

But at this point Anna Botting, the Sky News presenter, spoke over everyone to dismiss this whole story as a 'vendetta' from a 'left-leaning' newspaper which was aimed at Andy Coulson solely because he now works for the Tories. And she made clear that was the end of that discussion. It was dreadful.

And it clearly highlights the dangers of too much media being in the hands of too few people. The biggest selling daily newspaper and one of the two main TV news channels are all owned by Rupert Murdoch, who also owns the News of the World.

And when not claiming some mythical political plot (the Chair of the Committee, incidentally, is a Conservative MP), they have decided the stick their fingers in the ears, shut their eyes and shout 'la la la', instead of telling their viewers about some important proposals to improve the press in this country.

The Guardian reports the Mail has done a short article, mostly avoiding the phone-hacking claims. The Telegraph has written more in general, but ignored the phone-hacking stuff. The Independent has given lots of coverage to News International's pathetic sound and fury.

So today we've seen parts of the media refusing to engage in a debate or admit to their own failings, while other parts try to intimidate and smear anyone who dares criticise.

How are things ever likely to change?


  1. Nice post - I appreciate the coverage. The majority of the media's response to this verdict is frankly disgraceful.

    One can but pray that the recommendations for the PCC be acted upon.

  2. This is the kind of media the Dirty Digger wants in the UK.

  3. this is a cracking blog - your efforts are very much appreciated! Thanks

  4. The attempt to ban newspapers from printing for a day for serious transgressions is a very poor recommendation, however

    It does sound a bit extreme, and probably not as effective as forcing them to make up for front-page lies with front-page apologies. But think about it: every day the Daily Mail prints complete bullshit. If people complained about said bullshit every day, then every day the PCC would (hopefully) be finding them guilty and shutting the Mail down for a day. Net result: either the Daily Mail goes out of print entirely, or it stops printing bullshit. Either way's fine.

    (Of course I know this wouldn't happen, because the shut-down-for-a-day punishment would only be for the most jaw-droppingly extreme breaches of the code. Hmm, maybe the code needs to be made stricter.... We can dream!)

  5. I remain appalled that the bulk of the British media declined to report the illegal activity of the News of The World. Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb forced the News of the World story off the coverage tonight on Channel 4 News - pressumably. You are either serious Ch 4 News or unreliable and corrupt. You have a public service remit. You don't deserve it.

  6. ITN make Channel 4 News. Does News International have any control over ITN? Can anyone explain why Channel 4 NEws have not reported the illegal phone tapping by The News of the World? Jon Snow needs to explain himself.

  7. The sheer fucking gall of their editorial is mind blowing. Come on, we know you're a shit newspaper, you know you're a shit newspaper, even your readers know how shit you are. Just admit it.

  8. What a fantastic summary. Well researched, well written, and thoroughly fascinating.

    Keep up the good work!

  9. Agree with the above comments: a very well written, argued and researched blog.


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