Archive for the ‘Press review’ Category

Report on the PCC Open Day in Nottingham

In Press review on June 24, 2009 at 1:54 pm

The Press Complaints Commission held an Open Day yesterday in Nottingham. The day is “part of the Commission’s ongoing programme to raise awareness of its role”. I attended the event in order to understand exactly how they worked, how much interest they generated and the sorts of issues that people wanted to discuss.

The event had good billing beforehand with an interview on BBC Nottingham in the morning with PCC chair Baroness Buscombe. She chaired the day and appeared alongside PCC director Tim Toulmin, lay member Vivien Hepworth and Nottingham Evening Post editor Malcolm Pheby.

The Open Day was split into two parts – a surgery for 45 minutes, billed as an opportunity for

“members of the public to have a private, informal chat with a member of PCC staff. We are happy to discuss concerns about individual articles or have a more general discussion about how the complaints process operates.”


I was expecting something like an MPs advice surgery (perhaps because it’s something I’ve got lots of experience of) where various members of PCC staff met with members of the public on a one to one basis to discuss specific concerns about particular newspaper reports. However, the room was already set out for the Q&A session and whilst there were between 10 and 20 people in the room, there were only a couple of people that I could see had particular stories they wanted to talk about.

There was some good literature provided at the back of the room. In addition to the annual reports of the PCC, there was a small A5 booklet ‘How to complain’ which included a helpful flowchart to set out what complainants could expect and some indication of the time it takes to deal with a complaint (the whole process complete in “an average of just thirty five working days”).

Q&A session

The question and answer session was wide ranging, from specific questions about the particular coverage of issues in Nottingham through to concerns about the reporting of inquests and coroners’ courts and wider issues about the privacy of celebrities. The panel answered all the questions in as much depth as possible and allowed questioners to make lots of follow-up points.

I counted 31 people in the audience for the Q&A session, which included some members of the public, communications professionals from the local area, a group of media students and local councillors.

One gentleman clearly disliked self-regulation and asked where the money for self-regulation came from (the press) and what was the highest sanction that had ever been levied on a transgressor of the code. On this latter point, Tim Toulmin explained that the PCC had developed a system for overseeing ex gratia payments which were regularly several thousand pounds, with the highest a £17,000 settlement.

The PCC mounted a robust defence of self-regulation, although Baroness Buscombe doesn’t like the word ‘self’ because it implies self-interest. She prefers to talk of the PCC as a proponent of independent regulation. The panel explained the damage that legislation could do to the freedom of the press, the limits it might pose on investigative journalism and the length of time that complaints would take to solve if lawyers became involved. Baroness Buscombe suggested that health and education policy had suffered because they had become too politicised whereas press self-regulation could remain independent of the government and the industry.


I don’t know if anyone left the session having changed their mind about the PCC but the event was well run and it was an invaluable opportunity for anyone to speak directly to the PCC or their local editor about concerns about the press.

It is never easy to generate a public audience for an event of this nature. I was assured by Vivien Hepworth that they had tried to organise these events in the evening and not necessarily got any more people to attend. But even if the PCC were to hold 3 events like this a year, it would still reach fewer than 100 people – or 1% of the total enquiries it receives each year. Perhaps if the event had been framed around a topical issue it would have generated a more focused conversation which had a more direct impact on the PCC’s thinking, although this may have frustrated those with a specific concern they had to raise.

This is the article in the Nottingham Evening Post with more from the Q&A.


Has self-regulation changed journalism since 1999?

In Press review on May 18, 2009 at 4:32 pm

Paul Bradshaw has set out 10 ways that journalism has changed in the last ten years. His full article is well worth reading.

However, there is one notable absence: self-regulation. The issues that Paul talks about are critically related to regulation:

  • Journalists producing more content, for more platforms.
  • Instant measurability of journalism
  • Readers having a direct influence on output. Readers being able to create their own output.

But self-regulation doesn’t figure on his list. The PCC – and leading advocates such as Paul Dacre – firmly believe that the PCC has changed the industry for the better since the “excesses of the 1980s”. Have journalists noticed the difference?

Who regulates the regulators?

In Press review on May 18, 2009 at 4:20 pm

Does regulation stop at the role of the regulator or are regulators also regulated?

The Independent Police Complaints Commission is examining claims that the police misled the media in the aftermath of the death of Ian Tomlinson. However, the announcement does not appear to go as far as some wish. Journalists and bloggers were concerned not just that the police misled the media but that the IPCC also did so.

The IPCC does not have a regulator overseeing it. The Act which create the commission made no mention of an appeals process against the findings of the commission. Whilst its funding comes solely from the Home Office, the very same Act guarantees its independence from the police, government and any political party or interest group.

This approach is different to the Advertising Standards Authority. The ASA was completely free of legislative oversight until the introduction of European law, through a statutory instrument which gave the Office of Fair Trading a right to intervene to adjudicate in cases where the ASA may have got it wrong. However, the OFT has to balance the need to take action against whether its actions would ultimately weaken the system of self-regulation.

The Press Complaints Commission has an independent arbiter who reviews the work of the PCC when a complainant has been unhappy with their treatment. It could also be subject to judicial review – although this has never been exercised.

Ofsted both has its own internal complaints service and is subject to the Ofsted Adjudication Service, which is effectively outsourced to the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution and this service reports directly to the secretary of state.

I’m not aware of any resesarch which demonstrates that one of these approaches has more credibility than any others. But when the actions of regulators are of huge public interest (such as the FSA) or controversial (the IPCC) expect more people to ask: who regulates the regulators?

All models of regulation have flaws

In Press review on May 18, 2009 at 3:05 pm

A report by the Care Quality Commission today highlights flaws with self-regulation. The NHS Trusts responsible for the care of Baby P were responsible for assessing their own performance. Those Trusts told the (then regulator) the Healthcare Commission that they were doing ok: they were meeting the national standards. In fact of all the measures over three years, the Trusts only declared two out of 60 standards unmet. The commission then rated those Trusts excellent (GOSH) Fair (Whittington) and Good (North Middlesex).

The process for determining these standards is set out by the report:

“Every NHS trust in England is responsible for ensuring that it complies with the Department of Health’s core standards.”

“As part of the current annual health check process, we ask all trusts to assess their performance against the standards and publicly declare this information . . . If the trust’s board is not satisfied that the standards are being met, it must take appropriate action.

The Commission cross-checks the declarations using publicly available information from sources such as clinical audits, surveys and performance data from other regulators. Using all of this information, the Commission’s regional teams target inspections to check that trusts have performed at the level that they actually declared. All non-compliance with the standards is followed up.”

In this instance self-regulation failed tragically but a more heavy-handed system of regulation is also not without problems.

Government regulation can lead to a diminished sense of responsibility amongst those who have to meet the rules. Because someone else is responsible for finding out if you are good enough, you take less responsibility for making sure that you are and spend more time making sure the things that the inspector might find are ok – knowing that there are some things they are less likely to find out.

At the event I attended earlier this week Robert Peston argued that the best form of regulation was one where individuals are encouraged to exercise their judgment and take responsibility for their actions. He suggested that the creation of the Financial Services Authority had led to more rules but a diminished culture of responsibility for adhering not just to the letter but the spirit of the law.

Self-regulation also enables a more proportionate regulatory process. The Healthcare Commission required far fewer inspectors, making it better value for money and was often able to inspect more hospitals, more quickly than a more thorough inspection process. Ofsted began by leading the inspection process but reformed its processes to ensure that inspections happened less frequently but self-inspection enabled inspectors to identify early problems which required greater intervention.

As Deidre Hutton said at the same event, we have a police force but we don’t expect there to be no criminals. So perhaps the failure of the regulatory system in healthcare shouldn’t lead to fundamental reform. But it will be hard for government not to take a more proactive ‘heavy handed’ approach – even though that also has difficulties.