PCC to blame for “poisonous journalism”

Last week the PCC dismissed 25,000 complaints about a Jan Moir article. A leading academic has said the PCC and its Code is responsible for "poisonous journalism"

The Chair of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom (CPBF) has turned on the Press Complaints Commission in the wake of their decision to dismiss 25,000 complaints about a Jan Moir article on the death of Stephen Gateley.

Last week, the PCC chose not to uphold a complaint about Jan Moir’s Daily Mail article in October titled, ‘A strange, lonely and troubling death.’ On the CPBF website, Professor Julian Petley writes:

“The clear moral of this story is that it is the nature of the Code itself, coupled with the way in which the Commission deals with complaints arising from alleged breaches of it, which allows poisonous journalism of this kind to flourish. Pundits such as Moir know exactly what they can get away with, and are past-masters at staying just within the limits of the permissible, which are anyway generous. Until a system of effective press self-regulation can be established, one which is respected by newspapers, their readers and the general public alike, there will be many more Stephen Gatelys.”

Professor Petley of Brunel University also turns on the PCC for their hypocrisy over press freedom:

“And please, can we be spared any more posturing by the PCC about freedom of expression being ‘a fundamental part of an open and democratic society’? Indeed it is, but where is the PCC in the current campaigns against our oppressive libel laws and in the growing agitation about judges throwing injunctions around like confetti? Where was the PCC last time the Official Secrets Act was used against journalists to suppress information which was merely embarrassing to government? Protecting freedom of expression means a great deal more than protecting the freedom of newspaper owners and their hired editors to do as they damn well like with their property in the pursuit of profit – including trampling over people’s lives at a time of terrible grief and loss.

Writing for the Media Guardian today, Ian Mayes calls for a “resident ombudsman” within national newspapers as complement to the PCC.


Joy Johnson, lecturer in journalism and a former political journalist, adds:

Professor Julian Petley from Brunel University who as chair of the (CPBF) has taken a close interest the self regulation of the press by the Press Complaints Commission, hits the nail on the head in his article.

The PCC’s judgement on Jan Moir’s article published on the eve of Gately’s funeral was, as Petley writes, to be expected from a body that has lost credibility. There was absolutely no evidence that Gately’s death was anything other than natural yet Moir, as Petley says, drenched her article with sensationalist innuendo.

Only a few weeks ago former director of public prosecutions Sir Ken Macdonald, speaking at a conference, called for independent regulation of the press, and for “all credible media organisations” to withdraw from the “farcical” Press Complaints Commission. Sir Ken told his audience of lawyers and editors:

“The press may think the PCC works, but they are living in a dream world. Nobody else does.”

The CPBF has made clear that the consequence of an unreformed PCC is that those whose complaints can be dealt with by the courts will simply have increasing recourse to the law. This will then be developed by judges rather than by Parliament.

This Wednesday the Culture, Media and Sports select committee delivers its verdict on the press when it publishes its 2nd Report of Session 2009-10, “Press Standards, Privacy and Libel”.

It comes at a time when politicians are even more denigrated than the press but, according to The Independent, after a year taking evidence it is not going to pull any punches and nor should it.

• Left Foot Forward will have detailed analysis on the findings of the committee on Wednesday.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.