Thursday, June 30 2016

Express Newspapers Pull out of PCC

 It emerged today that the publications of Northern & Shell – the group behind the Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Star and Star on Sunday – will no longer be covered by the Press Complaints Commission following a decision by the publishers to stop paying in to the Press Standards Board of Finance (PressBof), the fund that supports the regulator.

A statement released by the PCC reads:

“The Press Complaints Commission has today responded to the news that Northern & Shell is withdrawing its subscription to the Press Standards Board of Finance (PressBof) and, accordingly, its financial support for the system of press self-regulation.”

“The recent independent Governance Review into the PCC made a clear recommendation about funding disputes:

“‘A publisher who persistently withholds funding for the PCC should be considered outside the self-regulatory process. In these circumstances, it would be a matter for the funding body to seek to restore relations with the publisher. It should give every reasonable opportunity for payment to be restored. Should this not happen, the Commission should be informed of the position. Following consultation with the Commission, and only as a last resort, PressBof could then make clear to the publisher that defaulting on payment would mean it was no longer part of the system. The Commission would as a result formally decline to consider complaints about the relevant titles, or offer guidance to their editors.'

“The Commission has accepted this recommendation and, therefore, must now regard Northern & Shell as being outside its jurisdiction. As a result, the PCC will be unable to deal formally with new complaints about Northern & Shell titles until the funding dispute is resolved. The Commission will continue to assist individuals to frame their complaints about published articles and will direct individuals to the relevant departments of the titles within the Northern & Shell group.”

“Baroness Buscombe, Chairman of the PCC, said:

“‘It is disappointing that Northern & Shell no longer wishes to provide funding for the PCC and be part of the system of self-regulation. This means that they will not now be able to demonstrate to their readers that they are committed to adhere to the set of standards which are independently enforced by the Commission.’”

With all due respect to Baroness Buscombe, the reporting standard of the Daily Express and Daily Star have been implying a lax attitude toward those standards for quite some time. The withdrawal of arguably the most frequent violators of the PCC’s Editors’ Code of Practice leaves unclear how complaints will be handled by Northern & Shell in relation to its publications on matters such as inaccuracy and, if not the PCC’s Editors’ Code of Practice, what rules will govern them. Such inaccuracies include the infamous ‘Muslim Plot to Kill Pope’, in which, according to the DE, “Islamic terrorists disguised as street cleaners allegedly hatched an audacious plot to blow up the Pope” – a story wholly without foundation. They also include allegations by the Daily Star that “shady Asian cricket betting rings are directly funding al-Qaida terrorism.”

Today’s development has removed even the pretence of adherence to the ethical standards laid out in the Code of Practice.

The Independent article cited a ‘source’ saying that Northern & Shell feel “they can operate the principles of self-regulation themselves and don't feel they need to do that by being a member of the PCC."

“They employ lawyers to check the facts on stories and will continue to do that.”

The implications of a lack of external accountability and scrutiny on any large publication are vast. The average daily readership of the Daily Express alone was 1.57 million in 2008. The reports within those publications shape the opinions and debates of a large chunk of society. Are we to trust the lawyers of Northern & Shell to ‘check the facts’ and correct any mistakes given their past record? What will determine whether their scrutiny is up to scratch?

The withdrawal of Northern & Shell threatens to undermine the credibility of the PCC’s system of self-regulation. As Roy Greenslade observes in his blog, “If self-regulation is to carry any credibility with the public, all newspapers and magazines need to be subject to the editors' code of practice, which is the cornerstone of the PCC's operation.”

The PCC’s website argues that “self regulation works because the newspaper and magazine publishing industry is committed to it.”

The withdrawal of the voluntary commitment of any party exposes the weaknesses in such a system.

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