Examination of Witnesses (Questions 620-639)|
TUESDAY 25 MARCH 2003
620. So what is your guidance? What precisely
is your guidance to a tabloid or a broadsheet regarding that specific
(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 alland I suppose it is an obvious point, but it is a
key one to makethe 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 accusedand I am definitely not on the side
of paedophiles here; my legislation would prove thatrisk
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.
628. Matthew Kelly?
(Mr Black) Matthew Kelly was arrested.
Mr Bryant: He was not charged.
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
(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
waryou 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
(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 welcomewhat I think any of us on the Commission
would welcomeis 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.
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 balancingand
I said this earlieris 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 Commissionin fact,
I think all the commissioners, but you have a majority of lay
commissionersthe 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
639. The point I am trying to get at though,
despite the answers you have givenand 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
(The Committee suspended for a division in the House from
4.46 to 5.30)