Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 620-639)



  620. So what is your guidance? What precisely is your guidance to a tabloid or a broadsheet regarding that specific question?
  (Mr Black) I can send you a copy.

  621. No, no. Tell me now, please. This is a massively serious topic. It has already been discussed by one of your members, Mr Dacre, so you would be very aware that I would bring it up here, I am sure. I would like you to tell me now: what is your guidance?
  (Mr Black) The guidance is in many ways to actually highlight the issues in the Code which are important, and there are specific issues in the Code which relate to this area. First of all—and I suppose it is an obvious point, but it is a key one to make—the issue of accuracy in reporting. Secondly, the question of privacy, and a newspaper editor will have to make a judgment about an individual's privacy in that case, remembering always that privacy is a coin with two sides to it. There is an issue to do with the question of victims of assault. There is an issue to do with the identification of innocent relatives and friends of those people.

  622. I am talking of the actual men accused of paedophilia; not the victims, not everybody else, but those individual men accused of paedophilia.
  (Mr Black) Do you mean accused of or charged with?

  623. No, I do not mean charged with; I mean accused. I mean exactly what I have said.
  (Mr Black) That is an issue which goes well beyond the question of paedophilia and actually strikes at the heart of a very important point.

  624. I am asking you specifically on this one.
  (Mr Black) It does relate to the whole issue of open justice. There will be occasions when people are charged with a crime and it is absolutely right—

  625. I am not talking about charged. Please address the specific: accused. This is not me being pedantic. People who are accused—and I am definitely not on the side of paedophiles here; my legislation would prove that—risk being lynched. They are in a very serious situation, something which you need to address.
  (Mr Hinton) Can I just understand? Are you saying where someone has been informally accused or where someone is facing a legal charge of paedophilia?

  626. I would be happy for you to address both.
  (Mr Black) Where there has been a charge, there will always be reasons why newspapers, local newspapers and national newspapers, report that.

  627. What about where there has not, where there has only been a leak?
  (Mr Black) I do not know of an occasion where a newspaper editor would raise a charge, especially on something as important as paedophilia, against somebody who had not actually been charged.

Mr Bryant

  628. Matthew Kelly?
  (Mr Black) Matthew Kelly was arrested.

  Mr Bryant: He was not charged.

Ms Shipley

  629. The point I would put to you is that when I discussed this with Paul Dacre, he was rather better at answering than you. He agreed.
  (Mr Black) He is a newspaper editor. I am not there to defend what newspaper editors get up to.

  630. No. He was answering as a member of your Board.
  (Mr Black) I do not think he was.

  631. Yes, he was. Yes, he was, and he was very good. I actually believe the tabloids have done a great job in opening up the whole child abuse question, but there is a real problem here with innocent people being named in newspapers and being photographed, a massive problem. He said, actually, that this was one area where he did agree there was a serious problem which needed to be addressed and which had not been solved. So I put it to you: what are you going to do about it, or are you just going to say, "That's not in our Code" or "It's already covered"? Frankly, nobody else would agree with you.
  (Mr Black) I actually do not want to comment on the Matthew Kelly case in detail because I think we are actually dealing with some complaints from him.

  632. I did not raise Matthew Kelly, so forget Matthew Kelly. Just deal with what I am asking.
  (Mr Black) This is a massively important area which, as I say, has ramifications across the media. It goes to some extent beyond issues to do with the Code, to do with how justice is being seen to be done in particular cases, and I think that is a case that Paul Dacre made well.

  633. So what are you doing?
  (Mr Black) We will respond on a particular case by case basis to those sorts of things, and that is actually how the system works.

  634. Great! Let me recap very briefly: proactively, you are only going to respond on a one to one basis. You are not proactively going to sort this out, which a major newspaper editor has said to us is a problem. Secondly, Linda Gilroy, talking about war—you are not particularly aware of this; in fact, you are not aware of this, but you will look into it. It is a major area where anybody who is proactive would realise they could predict there were going to be invasions of privacy and sending out something would have been a good idea. The payment by newspapers: I would draw your attention to Operation Ore. Really, you are not proactive at all, are you? You will respond within very limited means.
  (Mr Black) How much do you think we can be proactive about assisting people who have not actually been accused of or charged with anything?

  635. I can tell you precisely, actually, how you can with the paedophiles. You can first of all agree that it is something that you should be looking into as a group, because I do not understand why you are there if you are not addressing this, something which a major newspaper person has said is a problem, and it is a very serious problem. Anybody with any thought about this at all would realise that.
  (Mr Black) Absolutely. I have already said that it is a massive problem.

  636. So what are you going to do about it as a body?
  (Mr Black) There are large numbers of rules which already exist in the Code on these matters.

  637. They are clearly insufficient.
  (Mr Black) When any editor is confronted with one of these serious issues, he or she will look at the Code and make a judgement about whether or not it is right to name anybody in a particular set of circumstances. They will make a judgement about the Code, and they will also make a judgement about the legality of it, because if you accuse somebody of a crime and they are not guilty of it, there are massive issues of libel and defamation which follow from that. I do not know of a single editor who would not make those judgements. I am not going to go around lecturing editors on things that they know extremely well, when they might be having to make judgements about things late at night. What I would welcome—what I think any of us on the Commission would welcome—is if one of those who is involved in one of these cases made a complaint to us and allowed us to thrash out these issues on the back of an adjudication. Paul Dacre is absolutely right: these are big and serious issues, which have ramifications for local newspapers as well as national newspapers, and I am not going to sit here and make up rules on the hoof.
  (Professor Pinker) We had already issued a guideline, as I remember, to all editors when the paedophile issue was very much in the public eye, after very careful discussions with senior probation officers and with senior police officers, and we have advised them also: if in doubt, get in touch with those two bodies, deciding whether or not and what to publish. But let me make one further point, because what you have raised, Ms Shipley, in a sense touches on another area of criticism, that in a sense, unless we are proactive we are not doing our job. But we are a small organisation, and we have learned over time from experience that the best way, the most effective way of protecting the public is to proceed on the receipt of a complaint, and not in a sense to be moving in and trying to work that way. It is not complacency, it is not simply reactivity; it is actually trying to do the job to the best of our ability. We need a complaint.

Alan Keen

  638. The newspaper editors, particularly the tabloids, were very much on the defensive when they first came before us, as if we were going to attack them. We have no reason to do that. You work under a self-regulatory system, and it is your job to defend what you do, and most of the time you have done that reasonably well. We can look more broadly than that, of course. One of the previous witnesses said that it was a good thing to have journalists on the PCC because they understood the pressures of the industry, meaning that newspapers have to be despatched quickly to get the best advantage. Do you not agree though that to understand the pressures of newspapers, really your job should be to understand the pressures on the individuals who are suffering because of what has been written about them or the pressures put on them by doorstepping, and you should not have to take account of the pressures that the newspaper editors are under. The balance seems wrong, does it not?
  (Ms Hepworth) I agree it is a balancing job, and I think the job of everybody who is on the Commission is to balance. I get a set of green sheets every week of every single case, and when you read the case, the question you ask yourself is "How would I feel if that were me?" That is your real question, and you compare it with the rules of the Code. I really believe that everybody on the Commission does that. What you are balancing—and I said this earlier—is the rights of the individual under the Code, and you also have the whole area of the freedom of the media. It is an extraordinarily difficult balance. You talk about proactivity versus reactivity. There is a real balance for us to strike there. If we engage in a great deal of proactive behaviour, we will rapidly become the directors of the media. That is an extremely dangerous position for us to be placed in. What we try to do is raise standards through effective self-regulation. I do think that for the majority of the Commission—in fact, I think all the commissioners, but you have a majority of lay commissioners—the focus is on the experience of that individual.
  (Professor Pinker) We know that editors have to make a discretionary judgement in a matter of minutes, less than an hour. We have time to reflect when we come to a collective adjudication. But it is still my experience that very, very rarely, if ever, do editors knowingly and intentionally breach the Code. What they have done is they have boobed; they have made an error of judgement. The test then of an effective regulatory system is their readiness to correct it. That is the scope for the exercise of second thoughts and conciliation. I can tell you that there are two kinds of response, depending upon the kinds of complaints. The major cause of complaint, sir, is inaccuracy. Very few editors, if any, that I know of really intentionally publish inaccurate material. There may be arguments about comment, conjecture and fact. The moment it is drawn to their attention, they will put it right. There are other issues, which are more vexatious and open to judgment, where an editor is convinced that they have not got it wrong, that they have got it right and they are going to be adjudicated. On that, they will fight it all the way, and they will argue their case. If they did not care about the sanction that could fall on them, why would they invest so much time and effort in arguing a case when they thought they were right? That is what they do. If the complaint is upheld, they accept that, and that also should be noted. We have never had a publication refuse to publish a critical adjudication. That is the real measure of success, I think, rather than the frequency with which we impose Draconian sanctions. The present sanction is quite effective. Editors do not like it, and they particularly do not like it when their competitors publish our critical adjudication.

  639. The point I am trying to get at though, despite the answers you have given—and I understand Ms Hepworth's point about press freedom; that is something we care about greatly, and that has to be taken into account. We do not want you to be telling the press what they are allowed to print. Our concern is with people who have suffered because of what has been printed. The only reason for an editor to make mistakes because of pressure is because the newspaper is ready to go out. For the sake of getting the thing right, all they have to do is wait till the next day and publish it the next day, if it is an important story. I know the market comes into it. What I am getting at is how is it that a self-regulatory body can protect the individual better than a body that is independent of the industry? There are two examples everybody understands. The police are not encouraged to mix socially with the general public. A very simple example in my sphere of knowledge is football referees in professional games do not get changed with the players and are not encouraged to mix with the players because that could make a difference to their judgment. They are not encouraged to be even too friendly on the pitch. Why should it work for the press and it does not work with the police and football referees.
  (Mr Black) I would like to reiterate a point that has been made a number of times, the PCC is an independent body. The independent majority, as Vivien Hepworth said, permeates the system: the Chairman is independent, there is an independently appointed lay majority; there is a lock on changes to the code which have to be ratified by independent members. That is a very, very important point to make in all of this. If you thought it was a true system of self-regulation, which is actually the practice in many of the press councils in Europe, you would find there they were journalists in the majority. The newspaper industry in this country has gone further than it might, if it wanted to practice a genuine system of self-regulation it would have editors judging other editors. It is mindful of the concern that it was an independent body and it always ensured the PCC has a majority of lay members on it. It is consistently part of our job to explain that to members of the public.

  Chairman: I will have to adjourn the Committee temporarily and if you can remember what you were saying then we can get it back on the record when we come back. There may be several divisions in succession, I am sorry about this. I voted against this clash of hours when the House of Commons considered this.
  (The Committee suspended for a division in the House from 4.46 to 5.30)

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