Tuesday 19 January 2010

Reforming the PCC

In December 2009, the Editors’ Code of Practice Committee, which oversees the Code of Practice policed (ahem) by the Press Complaints Commission, announced its annual review of the Code.

So this blogger joined with several others (Kevin Arscott, Adam Bienkov, Dave Cross, Sunny Hundal, Tim Ireland, Jack of Kent, Justin McKeating, Mark Pack, septicisle, Sim-O, Jamie Sport, Clive Summerfield, Unity_ and Anton Vowl) in drawing up five suggestions to try to make the PCC work a bit better.

These are by no means all that is needed to resolve the many, many problems with the PCC, but the regulator has been notoriously slow to undertake any much-needed reform. Look, for example, at the minor tinkering that resulted from last year's review. So these are just a start (that may be achievable).

Each of us have our own individual ideas for improving the self-regulatory system. A more transparent PCC, less in thrall to the newspapers and with fewer Editors in key positions. A PCC that favours the complainant rather than the newspaper and actually enforces the Code rather than appearing to find every excuse under the sun to avoid upholding complaints. More flexibility over third-party complaints. A pro-active PCC to ensure that when a story is withdrawn, articles based on or very similar too that story in other newspapers are removed without the need for a new complaint. The possibility of fines for the most serious breaches of the Code, as Ofcom can penalise broadcasters. And so on...

But the changes we are collectively asking for are more limited and - by any reasonable measure - not very contentious:

  • Like-for-like placement of retractions, corrections and apologies in print and online (as standard).
  • Original or redirected URLs for retractions, corrections & apologies online (as standard).
  • The current Code contains no reference to headlines, and this loophole should be closed immediately.
  • Sources to be credited unless they do not wish to be credited or require anonymity/protection.
  • A longer and more interactive consultation period for open discussion of more fundamental issues.

If the Star writes a front page headline falsely implying Peaches Geldof is a prostitute, why should they be allowed (by the PCC) to hide a tiny apology on page 2? The Express newspapers wrote their apologies to the McCanns on the front page. Unfortunately, that seems to have been a one-off.

Likewise, online. It is almost impossible to find apologies unless you search for them specifically. They should be trailed on the website homepage and corrections should appear at the same URL as the withdrawn story.

You would think those are the minimum newspapers would do when they have made serious errors. But the newspapers want to get away with as much as they can and know the PCC will let them.

More detail on each of our suggestions is available on the petition we have set up to collect support for out initiative. If you wish to support us, please sign our petition.

Tim Ireland at Bloggerheads has created an excellent video listing our suggestions. Enjoy A Letter to the PCC: Space Invaders Edition.

Meanwhile, if you have other ideas for reforming the Code, please do let the Editor's Code Committee know by 31 January 2010. You can contact the Secretary contact him at Ian Beales, Code Committee Secretary, PO Box 235, Stonehouse, Glos GL10 3UF or by email on ianbeales@mac.com


  1. All the suggestions listed above sound far too reasonable and sensible. Definitely won't be happening then!

  2. I agree entirely and I'll sign the petition, but the link to the petition seems to be broken at the moment.

  3. link to petition not working...

  4. All very reasonable suggestions, and not contentious at all. I'm afraid I would also like to see greater financial penalties since a stick is clearly required to adjust the current mind set of editors making financial calculations based on uplift of sales against potentially low court settlements.

    I would welcome an end to this ghastly false quote culture- "a close friend", "a source" etc. and again if a case comes to court then a journalist should be prepared to show (in camera if necessary) that those quotes came from real people and not created on a keyboard.

  5. Anonymous #2 - I too would love to see an end to quotes from 'A Close Pal'/'An Onlooker', if only on the off-chance that it rids the press of 90% of the bullshit that gets printed, with just one made-up quote to legitimise an otherwise-unremarkable non-story. I'd be fascinated to see how the likes of Gordon Smart filled a page if he couldn't simply run photos of celebrity couples holding hands, plopping a paragraph under it based around "An onlooker said 'They're obviously very much in love'".

  6. 5 excellent suggestions there, 1 2 and 3 being most vital.

  7. Good suggestions. I would also like to see an end to Friday for Sunday stings. An opportunity for tabloids to run a pound of flesh often without giving people a chance to respond or citing and alleging criminal deeds before police have warned, charged or dropped a case. All part of the tabloids dodgy dealings to slur, smear and destroy often through innuendo.

  8. Your petition doesn't exist according to the link

  9. Unfortunately, ipetitions removed the petition and still haven't given us any explanation as to why. A new petition should be up soon.


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