Sunday Times Editor: Newspapers take the PCC “very seriously” – Really???

The Editor of The Sunday Times yesterday said UK newspapers take the Press Complaints Commission "very seriously" - despite all the evidence to the contrary.

The Editor of The Sunday Times told Parliament yesterday that UK newspapers take the much-maligned Press Complaints Commission “very seriously” – despite all the evidence to the contrary.

John Witherow was appearing before the Joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions alongside the editors of The Guardian, Private Eye and Press Association, Alan Rusbridger, Ian Hislop and Jonathan Grun. Though the headlines were made by Hislop’s remarks about super injunctions – that there had been an “outbreak of sanity” – it is Witherow’s words that warrant greater scrutiny.

He said:

“The whole, the point of the sort of journalism we do is to get it right, and if we don’t it’s pointless and we take that very seriously. If we get it wrong we want to correct and apologise for it, I think the PCC is a very valuable tool in raising standards.

“I think the idea that you’re gonna be adjudicated against over accuracy is something we will fight if there’s a complaint against us very strongly, almost as much as a libel case.

“Newspapers do take PCC adjudications very seriously, I’m not sure that’s always understood by the public ‘cos it seems that it’s still a toothless body but it’s treated by the press seriously, and accuracy is the first and most paramount thing we ask for.”

Watch it:

Where to begin?

How about with the Richard Desmond-owned Daily Star and Daily Express, who have both withdrawn from the PCC – they are no longer covered by the body. They very clearly have no respect for it, and do not take it seriously at all.

At the time, in January this year, Tabloid Watch asked:

“And what happens to Desmond? Well, it appears there’s nothing to stop his papers carrying on as usual – filled with all the lies, hatred and dreadful ‘journalism’ that have filled their pages since he bought them. Will it get worse now the PCC fig-leaf has gone? Can it possibly get worse?”

Let’s move on to the present, and to how “very seriously” the Daily Mail takes the PCC. Only yesterday, independent fact-checking website Full Fact reported how respectfully “poorly” the Mail had treated the PCC – and how spineless the PCC was in response, over the Mail’s “sloppy journalism” about aid to foreign countries.

Despite the PCC ruling there were “two separate occasions of significant inaccuracies on the newspaper’s front page” – which they describe as “a matter of serious concern to the Commission”, no sanction was imposed. Full Fact describe the Mail’s treatment of the PCC as “extraordinarily derisive”.

As Full Fact say:

The PCC is too timid to stand up to the newspapers with whom it deals.

It fatally undermines the good work that the PCC’s complaints staff do by showing that ultimately, when the Commission itself is called upon to regulate rather than mediate, it is weak.

We can only hope that either the Commission’s new Chairman, or Lord Justice Leveson’s Inquiry, gets to grips with the problem soon.

And that’s just this week; throw in phone hacking and the many other instances of the PCC failing to deliver and it’s clear for all to see – even Nick Clegg – that the PCC needs backbone, bite and the will to wield it.

See also:

The NUJ is the solution to the sickness at News InternationalRuwan Subasinghe, October 6th 2011

The Daily Mail’s poisonous lies must be fought by all trade unionistsRick Coyle, September 23rd 2011

PCC responds to criticisms over hackgateWilliam Gore, July 20th 2011

Clegg’s plan for cleaning up the press: “Freedom, accountability, plurality”Shamik Das, July 14th 2011

Look Left – The week the press were finally reined inShamik Das, July 9th 2011

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