Examination of Witnesses (Questions 440-459)|
TUESDAY 11 MARCH 2003
440. That is the policy of News International?
(Mr Crone) Certainly The Sun and News of
the World which I look after, so by agreement with the other
side. They say, "Where will it appear?", and I will
answer, "No later than the page that the original story appeared".
(Mr Coulson) I think that is across the board, and
not just us.
441. So all your front pages were by agreement
with the PCC?
(Mr Coulson) Our apologies are by agreement with the
complainant and the PCC.
442. It seems to me from other examples that
it is not always the case that the apology gets the same prominence
as the original article, and although there may be circumstances
where the complainant does not want that much publicity attached
to what they said
(Ms Wade) That is why we have never had a complaint
about the position of an apology. We normally agree it with the
person we are dealing with and, as Tom says, it is never later
than the page that the story appeared on. As the PCC tells us,
it is always with due prominence.
(Mr Crone) And the words are agreed. The words can
only fill the space they fill and, if it is smaller than the original
story, that is the way it has to be.
443. As with all our other editors there has
been a very robust defencenot with admiration for the PCC
but essentially there is no other area where you think the PCC
might be reformed. Is there any help you would like to give this
Committee as to what we might do to maintain the confidence in
the system by suggesting other improvements to its working? Do
you have any suggestions?
(Ms Wade) We would certainly not be sitting here todayno
editor wouldand in the case of Mr Kuttner's evidence and
obviously Mr Rusbridger's later they may have their opinions on
how they want to improve the PCC. We all say it has to be improved.
As I said earlier, it has already had 31 different changes to
it. The latest change related to witnesses where the PCC worked
very closely with the Government and with all the relevant bodies
to tighten up that clause and that happened, so it is very difficult
for me to sit here and say, "Well, in the future this story
will happen and this will throw up this issue", but that
is how it evolvesvery naturallyand that is how it
will evolve over the next 10 years and will continue to evolve
and improve. For example, one of the questions you asked was about
the PCC being proactive but that is quite difficult, not only
because we have 1,400 regional newspapers, nearly 30,000 magazines
if you include trade, and it would take some kind of Orwellian
structure to monitor every single word that is printed every day
and for the PCC to be proactive it, but what we are looking at
at the moment is these big cases. There are two clauses in the
code, clause 4 for harassment but also the clause for intrusion
into grief or shock. Now it is through crime probably that the
majority of where ordinary people find themselves in the blaze
of the public eye and obviously those times are extremely sensitive.
In the case of Soham the PCC were contacted and they issued a
statement to all of us and we all withdrew immediately, but perhaps
we could be proactive in those circumstances where, because of
experience, we absolutely know what is going to happen. The only
thing I would say is that, in the case of Sarah Payne, the family,
Sara and Mike Payne, wanted the press to be there because it was
their only hope that Sarah would be found which is why they did
a press conference every day, because they were hoping that there
would be a sighting and the police could help. Often we give rewards
which are publicised for those same reasons so it is not always
fair to think that the press need to withdraw immediately from
these situations but, like I said, clause 4 for harassment has
worked perfectly in those situations.
444. And how do you view the European Court
of Human Rights intervention in all of this which seems to be
suggesting a much more active right to privacy as opposed to the
attitude that we have in the United Kingdom at the moment which
is slightly more of a free-for-all for people on a public beach
saying, "It is anybody's right to take a picture of you"?
How do you see the European Court of Human Rights judgment affecting
the way you work, and how would you seek to accommodate it in
your terms rather than maybe in Parliament's?
(Ms Wade) Again, it is not ordinary people that are
going on Article 8, it tends to be the rich, the famous or the
powerful so far that have used it, and the judgments that have
been made so far we completely agree with.
445. So there is nothing new coming from it?
(Mr Coulson) Not on the basis of ordinary people as
it appears at the moment, no.
446. And in the case of celebs?
(Ms Wade) We are here to talk about ordinary people.
If we get into the celebrity debate, it really does cloud the
issue. We are happy to talk about ordinary readers; celebrities
are completely different.
(Mr Coulson) And the fact that 90% of the people using
the PCC are ordinary people reinforces our point.
447. I never thought I would say it but I think
I preferred Piers Morgan! I have never heard the word "perfect"
used so frequently
(Ms Wade) To whom are you referring?
448. PCC is a "perfect" solution
(Ms Wade) I am sorry. I do have to clarify this. I
have been insulted in my time but, quite frankly, I do not think
anyone has ever struck so low! But Mr Fabricant continue, we are
going to have a great relationship. Presumably you were referring
449. You said that the PCC is a perfect solution
and perfect for ordinary people. In fairness you did then say
there is room for improvement, and I have to say that Stuart Kuttner's
remarks were very powerful, saying how the PCC has improved over
the years and there can be little doubt of that. But can you understand,
and I am addressing this to you, Rebekah, how people will think
that that there is a very cosy, very smug, complacent relationship
between the PCC and newspapers because of the structure of the
PCC, and while maybe 85% cent of the time those ordinary people
who make complaints are having their complaints redressed properly,
accurately and adequately, do you not accept that for that 15%a
figure quoted off the top of his head by Piers Morganof
people whose cases are not dealt with properly, it is a personal
(Ms Wade) I do accept that for any ordinary person
who has felt that their privacy has been intruded by the press
it is a tragedy and we work to solve that and make sure that corrections
and apologies are made and they come out, because every single
one of them is one of your readers so you do not want to insult
them and you do not want to invade their privacy. In fact, the
biggest thing tabloid newspapers do is campaign for those ordinary
people. I have spent my entire career thinking of campaigns that
will help my readers and that is the only thing I am interested
in really. I am sorry, you saying you preferred Piers Morgan is
still affecting me, but what you say is truewe do take
every case seriously, and I was not saying it was perfect. I did
make the point twice that we all believe that the PCC has to evolve
and improve but what I was trying to point out is that you have
to give the PCC and self-regulation credit for the last 10 years.
450. But when the Chairman said to you that
perhaps one area of improvement might be some form of compensation
to victims because they cannot afford to pursue it in the courts,
you rejected that out of hand?
(Ms Wade) Just because I do not agree with fines does
not mean to say that I do not agree that we should evolve and
improve the PCC and self-regulation as times change. Just because
I do not happen to agree with that one answer to itI do
not think that is right for the reasons I explained but I do think
it is right that we all work together to improve the PCC. Like
I said, it often gets improved when a big story breaks or an issue
comes upfor example, a payment to witnesses.
Michael Fabricant: Derek Wyatt asked
a question about ICSTIS and even asked whether Ofcom could be
a backstop and Piers, who has now stomped out of the room, said
this would be like Zimbabwe but the Independent Television Commission
which will be consumed into Ofcom
Chairman: Or Iraq.
451. The ITC has control over ITN and Sky News
and all the rest of it and no one is going to argue that they
are a part of the state organisation. Do you not think that there
is room to have Ofcom or some other organisation acting as a further
backstop for maybe those 15%?
(Ms Wade) If you take Ofcom for a start, it has experience
in telecommunications and broadcasting and absolutely no experience
in newspapers. As I said earlier in answer to the other question
about the lay members and having editors or people who understand
newspapers on the Committee and how important that is, it would
be ludicrous to put the press or control of the press under an
umbrella of Ofcom.
(Ms Wade) Because they have no experience in newspapers;
they are broadcasting and telecommunications. It is like putting
the press under ICSTIS; it is ludicrous. I do not really think
that Ofcom is something for this Committee to debate. What you
are looking for, and presumably the reason we are all here and
you are talking to us and asking for our submissions, is a way
to improve self-regulation. I know Mr Bryant has had the courage
to say it and I know the Chairman's view in the past has been
the samethat the essential components of a democratic society
are freedom of expression and speechand any threat
453. But there is also that inalienable right
to privacy, and there may be mutual contradictions?
(Ms Wade) But I think self-regulation is that balance.
(Mr Coulson) From a practical point of view the most
compelling evidence I have seen on this issue is from Geoff Elliott,
who served on both the PCCand I think he is unique in that
he served on the PCCand Broadcasting Standards so he has
experience of both, and he reached the conclusion that it would
be a nonsense to try and bring any statutory control involving
the press mainly because it would slow things up to a terrible
degree. One of the great advantages is the PCC is the speed with
which it works32 days. How many hearings do we see through
the Broadcasting Standards each year? Very few. Also, at the end
of those hearings, people are left dissatisfied, they've either
won or they've lost, so it is no different to what we were saying
earlier about the PCC.
454. Do you not think, though, it is a question
of public perception? It was said earlier there are more lay people
than editors on the Committee but only by one, and I gather at
the moment it is seven and seven, and this idea of self-regulation,
which I think is a good idea, is a problem when people are seen
to be their own judge and jury. I, for one, am trying to make
the BBC come more under Ofcom simply because even if the BBC judges
a complaint against it correctly people will say, "Well,
the board of Governors would say that because they are their own
judge and jury". Can you not see that people think sometimes
that the PCC are the journalists' own judge and jury?
(Ms Wade) No. The PCC, first of all, is not our own
judge and jury. I think both Andy Coulson and I have explained
to the Committee the fear and the humiliation that is involved
in having a complaint upheld by the PCC. Self-regulation is not
just about complaints being upheld but about the change in the
culture and how we fight and ask questions. Every single story
that is put in our newspapers goes through a list, a set of criteria,
not just of the code but in the spirit of the code, the convention
of the code. Is it judge and jury? As Paul Dacre said, we go to
the ballot box every day to our readers and our readers are very
decent people and if they were not reading a decent newspaper
they would not buy it. So we are not our own judge and jury at
455. I think that is a simplistic answer but
can I ask you one more question
(Ms Wade) Sorry, but you prefer Piers Morgan's answer
so there is nothing I can do really, is there?
456. Well, simply because I think people will
buy newspapers and if one person is hurt because of irresponsibility
then that is terrible but you are talking about millions of readers
to your newspaper and if that one person does not buy your newspaper
then it is hardly going to affect your circulation figures. That
is why I said it was simplistic. But what I want to ask you or
anybody is this: given that you do accept it is not perfect, although
self-regulation is working to a large extent but nevertheless
not to a total extent, how would you improve the PCC?
(Ms Wade) I suggested earlier that in the huge media
events I do think that is something we can look at
Michael Fabricant: What do you mean by
a huge media event?
457. Michael, let's have a civilised conversation.
(Ms Wade) For example, when a very high profile crime
happens and people wake up having had no experience of the press
in their entire lives perhaps, and they wake up in the morning
and they draw back the curtains in a time of shock or grief and
they find five crews from the BBC, three from ITN, the satellite
channels and freelance agencies, a member of every national newspaper
and all the surrounding local newspapersthat is a pretty
huge pack to be faced with, and I think one of the things we can
look at is how the PCC can deal with that in a proactive way.
As I said, in Soham it worked perfectly; the PCC were contacted
and they did deal with it. Perhaps we can be more proactive knowing,
as I said, what normally happens in these circumstances. Unfortunately
it tends to be the broadcasters who refuse to move.
458. Do you think when you are talking about
PCC being proactive that it might be useful if, rather than awaiting
complaints, and obviously it gets complaints and should go on
getting them, the PCC might on occasion institute inquiries of
(Ms Wade) What you are saying is can the PCC be proactive?
They have been on occasions but, as I said earlier, for them to
be properly proactive in the sense of the word it does mean this
kind of Orwellian structure, because there are so many newspapers
and magazines in this country. So it would not be feasible, but
I think on certain occasions like that we could be proactive,
459. I am slightly perplexed about the general
"All is beautiful in the garden; everything is rosy"
vision of modern press standards that you suggest, because most
recent polls show that more and more people believe they cannot
trust what they read in the national newspapers and that has grown
over the last few years but that is for a different day because
we are not talking about the broader issues today; we are just
talking about the specific issue of media intrusion. I guess one
of the most important questions for you is pursuit of a photograph
because that is the way you help tell a story, which is what primarily
you are about and that can lead to the harassment issues which
you suggest are now being perfectly met by the Harassment Act.
(Ms Wade) I was saying that the harassment clause
in the code has been very effective.