MEDIA: I spy trouble ahead for PCC’s rewritten code of practice

I took part last weekend in the first group discussion of the Press Complaints Commission’s rewritten code of practice.

I took part last weekend in the first group discussion of the Press

Complaints Commission’s rewritten code of practice.

The event, where the first draft of the code was privately circulated,

was designed as a sounding board by the Guild of Editors. But the

experience left me anxious about the state of self-regulation, and the

effectiveness of the PCC at this critical point.

The code committee, composed of editors and chaired by the Mail’s Sir

David English, was publicly bounced into agreeing to make big changes

last September, in the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death, when the

press and paparazzi were accused of hounding her to death.

Somewhat to my surprise, I found that the industry-wide rethink sternly

demanded by both the PCC’s chairman Lord Wakeham and reinforced by code

committee member Charles Moore, editor of the Daily Telegraph, was

taking far longer than most commentators expected. The initiative has

run into a wave of resentment from the professionals closer to the grass


This poses big leadership and PR problems for the PCC.

A cynic might say the public was fooled into believing immediate changes

on the key privacy, protection of children and payments to freelance

photographers were underway, when in reality everything apart from a

cordon sanitaire around Princes William and Harry remains - still -

under negotiation.

As if to underscore the point that life goes on pretty much as before,

the Sunday Mirror splashed with its Piers Merchant exclusive, including

furtive bedroom pictures, for three weeks in a row.

Despite pledges about respecting privacy made by individual editors, it

is clear that Wakeham’s concept of an ever-tightening code covering

everyone looks in jeopardy. For example, magazine and provincial editors

have hit the roof over the proposal to outlaw payments to minors

whatever the circumstances. This undermines the practice, by women’s

magazines, of paying parents for stories about their children’s

problems, as victims of playground bullies etc. Even Sir David, who

turned up in person to present the draft, seemed unsure of the wisdom of

this clause, and others, including a new move to outlaw ’persistent


It seems there is no prospect of a final version emerging until well

into the New Year. And the rewrite has become caught up in larger


For example, the Lords this week began the process of incorporating the

European Convention on Human Rights into British law, including Article

8, guaranteeing individuals privacy.

The delay is enabling PCC critics to sharpen their axes. Last week media

lawyer Geoffrey Robertson used the Guardian’s packed privacy debate to

attack the PCC as a ’fraud’. Amazingly, no-one from the commission

attended, the kind of oversight that spells trouble ahead.

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