I hesitate before writing this. I have been very critical of elements of press behaviour and had run-ins with various aggrieved journalists over the last year or so. Although the matters I have highlighted (such as accountability) are, I am sure, serious and important, I have sometimes been too quick in reacting and over-sensitive in responding to criticism.
But, in a rapidly changing media environment, some questions do need to be raised and properly debated. Put bluntly (as I have done in the past), one of the most serious questions has to do with the accountability of those who hold the rest of us to account. I am not going to rehearse the arguments here, but simply note the report in the Guardian of a call by the Media Standards Trust to radically reform the Press Complaints Commission.
According to the Guardian report the Media Standards Trust has proposed 28 recommendations that would make press self-regulation “more effective, more accountable and more transparent”. The PCC should, it proposes:
- be more proactive in investigating potential breaches of its code, accepting third-party complaints rather than waiting for injured parties to get in touch;
- monitor newspapers’ behaviour on behalf of the public and conduct investigations “where there is significant public concern about wrongdoing”;
- be renamed the Press Standards Commission
- ensure no serving editors sit on the commission itself;
- make publishers found in breach of the code pay for the cost of the investigation;
- make publicly available minutes of PCC meetings.
The press made loud claims about the absurdity of MPs setting their own rules, regulating their own expenses, monitoring their own performance. If independent scrutiny of MPs is so important for the democratic culture we want to enjoy, then surely there should be no problem for the press to be monitored by an independent body.
This is not to threaten the freedom of the press (which has to be protected), but to ensure accountability and to facilitate justice for those who have been unjustly aggrieved. There is much to debate about the MST’s proposals, but they would go some way to satisfying the concerns of people like me who want the best press for a better society.