Thursday, July 14, 2011

Hackgate and PCC reform - I told you so (sort of)

AT the launch of the 20th edition of McNae back in 2009 I got into conversation with, I'll call him 'an insider',  from the Press Complaints Commission.

There had been rumblings, as ever, about reform, but this time, I thought, there seemed to be a bit of political will behind them. I said that a new Parliament might bring with it a desire to look once again at statutory regulation.

The chap from the PCC was totally dismissive, describing John Prescott, who was one of the main voices for reform at the time, as 'a prat.'

Since then I've had a couple of pops at the PCC which, I felt, was failing to respond adequately to legitimate criticism of the way it worked.

I mentioned it here on this blog, and here in a piece I wrote for the Guardian.

Both times I warned that a new Parliament, with a new crop of MPs unblemished by expenses scandals would be willing to look again at regulation of the press, possibly on a statutory basis.

At this stage I ought to declare an interest in that earlier this year I applied, unsuccessfully, to become a public commissioner on the PCC. If they do pay any attention to lone bloggers, I would just point out that I have been making this point for a long time, and well before my application to join them.

The extraordinary events of the last two weeks have given Parliament the opportunity it was waiting for to have a go at press regulation once more.

If the PCC does not survive this episode then it only has itself to blame. Its lack of any sensible response to criticism levelled from everyone from Gerry McCann to the former DPP has left it in a very vulnerable position.

Its excuse that it was lied to by NI over the hacking allegations served only to point up how weak it was as a regulator.

It has sleep-walked into a situation where we are now staring statutory regulation of the press in the face, which is a disaster for a free press.

If the media organisations who fund it through Presbof, have any sense, they will start working on its replacement now, looking at Ofcom as a model - with proper powers of investigation and fine, before MPs come up with something much more draconian.