Memorandum submitted by the Press Standards
Board of Finance Limited (Pressbof)
Pressbof was set up by the newspaper and magazine
publishing industry in 1990 to co-ordinate the industry's actions
on self-regulation following the Government's acceptance of the
report of the Committee on Privacy and Related Matters.
Pressbof comprises representatives of the Newspaper
Publishers Association, the Newspaper Society, the Periodical
Publishers Association, the Scottish Daily Newspaper Society and
the Scottish Newspaper Publishers Association. It is responsible
for funding the Press Complaints Commission and provides a ready
means of liaison between the PCC and the industry.
1.1 The PCC has been established as the
independent regulatory authority for newspapers and magazines
in the UK.
1.2 The PCC is a company limited by guarantee.
In terms of company law the Commission members are members of
the Company and its Directors.
1.3 Although the Committee on Privacy had
recommended that there should be a majority of press members on
the PCC, this was changed in 1994 to have a clear majority of
1.4 The Commission members, other than the
Chairman, are appointed by an Appointments Commission. Since 1994
the Appointments Commission has comprised the PCC Chairman, three
independent members and the Pressbof Chairman. The Pressbof Chairman
is the only member connected with the industry, so that there
is always a clear lay majority.
1.5 In view of the strongly-worded challenge
directed to the industry in 1990 by the then Home Secretary, it
was clear that the industry must have confidence in the PCC Chairman
and the appointment of the PCC Chairman is made by Pressbof on
the industry's behalf. Pressbof consults widely before making
1.6 Pressbof believes that Lord McGregor
and Lord Wakeham, in their periods of office as PCC Chairman,
established and developed the PCC so that it fully met the expectation
of Government, gained the ever-increasing confidence of members
of the public and earned the necessary respect of the industry
itself. Pressbof is confident that Sir Christopher Meyer, KCMG,
will be highly effective as the next PCC Chairman.
1.7 The PCC has demonstrated its ability
to handle the volume of complaints with expedition, thoroughness
and fairness. Its procedures are user-friendly. The speed with
which complaints are processed compares favourably with other
1.8 There is a perception in certain quarters
that the PCC is more concerned with complaints from VIPs than
ordinary members of the public. This is not so. 90% of the complaints
handled come from ordinary members of the public. Inevitably,
a complaint from a public figure will draw more media attention
but this has a value in providing continuing publicity for the
role of the PCC.
2. MEDIA FREEDOM,
2.1 A free and responsible press is an essential
element of a democracy. The need to observe and report on the
many facets of local, central and European Community government
is vital. It cannot be allowed to fall victim to pressure from
government. Any move to involve government in the regulatory process
would be one step on the path to open or covert censorship: and
thus to restriction of the individual citizen's right to be informed.
2.2 Newspaper and magazine publishers, in
taking up the Government's challenge in 1990, committed themselves
unreservedly to acceptance of the authority of the PCC, to adherence
to the industry's Code of Practice and to provision of the necessary
finance for the self-regulatory regime. This commitment remains
2.3 The PCC operates with complete independence.
At no time has the industry or any section of it sought to interfere
with its adjudicatory process.
2.4 There are critics who suggest that,
because the PCC is financed by the industry, it has to be in the
industry's "pocket". This is not the case. The recommendation
of the Committee on Privacy gave the industry no choice. The industry
was told that it had to provide "the necessary money for
setting up and maintaining the PCC".
2.5 Of course, Pressbof is interested in
how the PCC uses its funding. Budgets and financial outcomes are
discussed, but these discussions are constructive and are aimed
at avoiding the financial problems that beset the former Press
Council in its closing years.
2.6 Since 1990 the industry has collected
£17 million through a system of registration fees payable
to Pressbof to meet the costs of self-regulation. Pressbof's budget
for the calendar year 2003 is £1.7 million.
3. PRESS BEHAVIOUR
3.1 Adherence to the Code of Practice and
the underlying possibility of being at the receiving end of an
adverse adjudication from the PCC have had a marked effect on
the conduct of journalists, the items that are published and the
way in which these are presented. Editors do take notice of the
Code and do judge potential stories against the benchmarks set
3.2 With the vast number of publications
in the UK and with the great volume of news coverage every day
in the week, there will always be lapses but Pressbof believes
that these will continue to be minimised through observance of
the Code of Practice.
3.3 One area of significant achievement
relates to children who were victims or witnesses in sex cases
and to whom identification restrictions applied. In the past differing
treatment of the reports in printed publications, radio and television
could lead to what was known as "jigsaw" identification
of the child. The electronic media has co-operated fully with
the Code of Practice Committee in ensuring a common treatment
of such reports and Pressbof is not aware of any recent incidents
where jigsaw identification could have arisen.
4. ADEQUACY OF
4.1 The Code of Practice adopted by the
industry on 1 January 1991 was based on that recommended by the
Committee on Privacy with only minor variations.
4.2 The Code has been kept under continuing
review since that time to ensure that it continues to set appropriate
and relevant standards of editorial practice.
4.3 Amended versions of the Code were distributed
in May 1992, July 1993, May 1994, November 1996, December 1997
and December 1999.
4.4 Changes currently under consideration
are likely to be included in a further revised version in the
5. THE COMMISSION,
5.1 Pressbof is satisfied that the constitution
and remit of the PCC as set out in its Memorandum & Articles
of Association continue to meet the requirements of self-regulation.
5.2 Pressbof is satisfied that the Appointments
Commission functions effectively and that the diversity of PCC
non-press members and the range of press members has been well
5.3 Membership of the Code of Practice Committee
comprises editors from all sectors of the newspaper and magazine
publishing industry ensuring a spread both geographically and
in the nature of the publications. Since 1995 appointments to
the Committee have been subject to confirmation by the Appointments
5.4 Since 1995 a lay input to the Committee's
deliberations has been provided by the participation of the FCC
Chairman and the FCC Director. Since 1993 changes to the Code
have required ratification by the FCC.
5.5 The work of the Code Committee derives
from matters raised by members, references from the FCC and suggestions
received from members of the public. The facility to submit suggestions
to the Committee is publicised in FCC publications.
5.6 The Code Committee has also given attention
to Sir David Calcutt's Review of Press Self-Regulation (January
1993), the National Heritage Committee's Report on Privacy and
Media Intrusion (March 1993), recommendations by the Secretary
of State for National Heritage (July 1995), the Data Protection
Bill, the Human Rights Bill, issues raised by the Financial Services
Authority, the Home Office consultation paper Setting the Boundaries
(August 2001) and the Lord Chancellor's Department's consultation
paper Payments to Witnesses (March 2002).
5.7 In addition to the distribution of the
Code throughout the industry, it is issued to appropriate university
departments and colleges of journalism. Permission is readily
given for its reproduction in journalism textbooks. The PCC makes
it widely available to members of the public.
6.1 The PCC's procedures allow for third
party complaints where appropriate. Pressbof is confident that
the PCC's discretion in this will be appropriately and constructively
6.2 With an increasingly vigilant public
which is nowadays fully aware of the PCC's existence and function,
Pressbof believes that monitoring would only tend to distract
the PCC from its prime function-dealing with complaints of unfair
treatment or unwarranted intrusion.
7.1 The principal sanction of the self-regulatory
regime is the requirement that any publication which is criticised
by the FCC under the Code must print the PCC's adjudication in
full and with due prominence.
7.2 This remains highly effective. No editor
relishes an investigation by the FCC and the obligation to publish
an adverse adjudication is a serious professional matter: it is
tantamount to saying to the publication's readers that the editor
broke his or her own rules and has, therefore, been censured by
his or her own professional body.
7.3 The disciplining of any editor or journalist
can only be a matter for the employer in accordance with the publisher's
disciplinary procedures. Pressbof has recommended that employers
make the Code part of journalists' contracts of employment, thus
facilitating any necessary disciplinary proceedings. The recommendation
also said that this should apply equally to editors. A survey
of the industry in 1995 showed that the recommendation had been
7.4 In 1993 Pressbof, on behalf of the industry,
agreed that, in appropriate circumstances, the PCC should record
that it was drawing the matter to the attention of the publisher/proprietor
in order that consideration be given for any disciplinary action.
7.5 There have been suggestions from time
to time that the PCC should have the power to award fines or compensation.
Pressbof discussed this at some length with the Department of
National Heritage in 1993. Pressbof remains totally opposed to
the introduction of any system of fines or compensation for the
7.5.1 The PCC has never suggested to Pressbof
that its authority would be enhanced if it was able to award compensation
or fine newspapers and magazines.
7.5.2 A study in 1993, financed by the Council
of Europe and UNESCO, of press self-regulation in 11 democracies
found that the efficacy of the regimes was not linked to the power
to award damages or levy fines, but to the consistency of the
application of the relevant ethical codes, their observance by
publications and the public's respect for the regulatory body.
7.5.3 The PCC provides an extra-legal regime
for complaint resolution. Its strength is in the speedy redress
it provides to complainants. Newspapers and magazines are committed
to the Code in both the spirit and the letter. In the event that
the Code is breached, the PCC, through informal conciliation and
the moral authority of its published adjudications, has the capacity
to ensure that apologies and corrections are obtained and action
taken when the complaint relates to the publication's newsgathering
7.5.4 A fine or compensation-based system
would require the formulation of quasi-criminal offences and civil
wrongs, appropriate defences and methods of determining the scale
of fines and the quantum of damages. This would mean that the
scope of the Code would need to be narrowed and the ability of
the PCC to assist complainants consequently reduced.
7.5.5 The resulting, more elaborate, adjudicatory
process would, almost certainly, lead to newspapers and magazines
insisting on legal representation. This process, in aping the
legal system, would bring to it the very disadvantages of the
legal system which self-regulation seeks to avoid. The arguments
over fines and compensation would dominate proceedings, which
would become increasingly adversarial. As a matter of practice,
this would often result in complainants being deprived of a speedy
resolution of their complaint.
7.5.6 It has been suggested by some that
these dangers would be avoided if the levels of fines and/or compensation
were strictly limited. In Pressbof's judgement, to graft on to
the existing system the power to award "small" fines
or damages would be to trivialise the work of the PCC, undermine
its moral authority, and misunderstand its essential rationale.
7.5.7 The industry has concluded that effective
self-regulation of editorial content cannot be achieved by giving
a self-regulatory body the power to award damages or fines. The
practical problem of operating such a system within a self-regulatory
context would be substantial. Such provisions would be detrimental
to self-regulation. They would have the danger of eroding the
industry's commitment to the self-regulatory regime. They would
render it difficult for the PCC to offer complainants the speedy
redress which has been developed so effectively over the last
8. HUMAN RIGHTS
8.1 During the passage of the Bill in the
House of Commons, the Home Secretary stated that:
The Government supported effective
self-regulation as administered by the PCC under the Code of Practice.
The Government had no plans to introduce
legislation creating a general law of privacy.
Thresholds in the Bill meant that
interlocutory injunctions should be granted ex parte only
in the most exceptional circumstances.
The Bill provided an important safeguard
by emphasising the right to freedom of expression.
The Government intended that it should
underline the consequent need to preserve self-regulation.
That effect was reinforced by highlighting
the significance of any privacy code, which plainly included the
Code operated by the PCC.
8.2 Pressbof has welcomed recent Court decisions
which have, in effect, said that the detailed examination of questions
of privacy is best left to bodies such as the Press Complaints
8.3 Pressbof is not convinced of the need
for more specific law on privacy. Should Parliament decide to
legislate in this area, then any law should relate to all sectors
of the community and not focused on the media.
9.1 Following publication of the National
Heritage Committee's report in 1993 Pressbof examined closely
whether or not the PCC should be supplemented by the appointment
of an Ombudsman. It considered that such a move would undermine
the regime established by the industry on 1 January 1991 and developed
in subsequent years. An Ombudsman, regardless of who appointed
him, would not command the authority or confidence of the public
or press if he was to sit in judgement over the decisions of the
9.2 This is particularly the case in view
of the distinction and calibre of the current members of the PCC
and the range and complexity of the complaints which they deal
with as a Commission.
9.3 It would not be possible for one person,
even if backed up by a substantial staff of advisers and experts,
to have the range of experience and authority provided by the
9.4 The vast majority of complaints are
handled responsibly by editors and, where appropriate, by newspapers'
readers' representatives. This process is often aided by the PCC
conciliating a settlement. In the event that a complaint is not
resolved informally, the PCC will adjudicate formally upon the
complaint. There is no clear evidence of any demand for another
layer of regulation to provide a formal right of appeal to an
Ombudsman against PCC adjudications.
4 February 2003