PCC chair: “Have you got that Guardian?”

The outgoing chairman of the Press Complaints Commission last night singled out the Guardian for allegedly misquoting her “non-stop” for the past three years.

Baroness Buscombe, who will step down from the self-regulation body in the new year this week, was at City University London to deliver the Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism annual lecture.

[Update: the Conservative Peer Lord David Hunt has been named as Buscombe's successor and will take up the position on 17 October]

Following her speech, she took issue with a question from data journalist James Ball, who introduced himself as from the Guardian.

Rattled by his question about her position on enforced regulation compliance, she several times referred to the Guardian in subsequent questions, saying: “I’m worried that the Guardian, as usual, is going to misquote me”.

“Can I just ask you what you are going to tweet to the Guardian,” she asked Ball, at one point.

“I’ve been misquoted non-stop for three years by the Guardian”, she said. “It’s really boring.”

She was assured that there would be a recording of the event made available.

Ball, who is not a media reporter, asked Buscombe about her suggestion that publications should not be able to opt-out of regulation.

There should be some of “back stop” power outside the PCC, which would “demand compliance”, Buscombe had stated in her lecture.

… if a publisher is “in” the system but doesn’t like an adjudication, he is at liberty to opt out of the system altogether. This is not sustainable, either in principle or in practice.

The solution? There should be some form of back stop power, vested in another body and, given that body needs sufficient powers to demand compliance, it will, regrettably have to be one regulated by the state.

This need not nor should it in any way compromise freedom of expression or lead to some form of licensing; it is just to ensure that compliance with the system is universal and no-one can just choose to opt out.

The problem was, she later added, that the Express and Star national newspapers don’t have to opt-in to a regulation system.  They can do what they like unless someone takes them to a court of law. [Express owners, Northern & Shell were removed from the self-regulatory system in January 2011 after the company failed to renew its membership].

But, the PCC chairman said, she was fully opposed to any form of statutory regulation.

She later claimed she was “having a bit of fun” with her jibes at the Guardian newspaper.  Other suggestions in her lecture included:

  • A whistleblowing system within newspapers: “ there should, as a matter of course, be a credible independent whistle blowing system in place, within all media organisations – so that any beleaguered journalist can have free access, without fear, to a second opinion as to his rights in law.”
  • The development of international regulatory frameworks with varying sanctions and rules of compliance: “All websites that comply with a system could carry an internationally recognised kite mark to give the reader and viewer the confidence that it is a trusted site, as opposed to a free for all; that would, I am convinced, encourage more publishers to opt in to the system as it would attract more unique visitors.”

She called for a “need for change in culture and practice” in British media. “I do not limit this to tabloids or News International,” she said.

Buscombe defended the body’s handling of phone hacking and said she was “weary” of responding to that question. The PCC is not set up to investigate criminality, nor should it be, she added.

Earlier, in defence of the PCC’s existing sanctions, she claimed:

“I wish some critics of the PCC could hear editors when the PCC have adjudicated against them; it is not music to the ears, believe me, they hurt.”

Media blogger Jon Slattery also has a report, here.

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3 Responses to PCC chair: “Have you got that Guardian?”

  1. Pingback: CLJJ annual lecture: Baroness Buscombe on changing times and regulation « Law, Justice and Journalism

  2. Pingback: Law and Media Round Up – 17 October 2011 « Inforrm's Blog

  3. Pingback: Changing times and changing media regulation – Marie Tay « Lawbore Future Lawyer

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