What do you do if a newspaper article is unfair or inaccurate? The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) seems like the ideal place to start, doesn’t it?
But the PCC is a form of self-regulation, and there is actually no requirement for any newspaper to take part. They can simply decide to leave the system.
That’s exactly what Richard Desmond’s publishing company, Northern and Shell, has decided to do. This means the PCC no longer has a role in any complaints against the Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Star, Star on Sunday or OK! magazine.
So where can you raise your complaint if the newspaper has simply decided to opt out?
Well you could write to the editor of the publication. If this does not result in a satisfactory outcome– and there would be nothing that compels the editor even to reply to you – then the legal route is all that is left.
Judges who deal with cases involving privacy and libel in newspapers regularly refer to the editors’ code of practice and its administration by the PCC. Being inside the self-regulatory system can therefore help to provide a legal defence. So could choosing to be outside of the system lead to harsher judgements? Only a test case would tell us for certain.
If self-regulation of newspapers is to have any meaning, then it must cover the entire industry. There is no suggestion that other publishers will pull out, but they must be wondering whether it is in their interests to be part of a partial regulatory system.
And if it is so easy for publishers simply to opt out of this system, then perhaps a statutory framework should be considered instead.
John Whittingdale, MP, chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, said, ‘The committee is on record as saying that if self-regulation is to have any credibility it must encompass all the major publishers. This now creates doubt about its efficacy.’
There are obvious issues with any system whereby the state could exert control over the media. Freedom of the press is a fundamental issue, but there are of course responsibilities to go with the rights. But surely some sort of compulsory yet independent procedure could be developed?
Many have described the PCC as toothless. Richard Desmond’s decision to leave the system may one day be seen as the catalyst that led to a better process of press regulation being developed.