Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 640-659)



  Chairman: Sir Harry, I would very much like to apologise for keeping you waiting like this. Mr Fabricant first.

Michael Fabricant

  640. Sir Harry, you were listening earlier on, I think, to the evidence that was being given and you heard the Chairman of the PCC talk about the PCC being a small organisation. I rather thought that he was using that as an excuse for not being proactive, for not taking up the issue that Frank Doran talked about, namely not dealing with that which can be dealt with legally. If that is the case should you not be giving some more money?

  (Sir Harry Roche) The budget for this year is £1.7 million. Since the PCC was set up the industry has met the cost of a total of £17 million. The PCC has never said to Pressbof, "We do not have enough money, we need more". Pressbof has never said to the PCC you are not spending the money wisely. I do not think it is a question of money. On the question of proactivity I think you have to remember that the PCC predecessor, the Press Council, the public, Government and the industry lost confidence in the Press Council, money was running away from the industry's point of view. That was a proactive body that instigated their own investigations and produced reports. They had a very large council. Complainants did not get their cases resolved sometimes for literally months. I think it was very much in Calcutt's mind when he made his recommendations in his first report that the industry should set up of system of self-regulation which focused very much on satisfying complainants and doing that quickly and at no cost to the complainant.

  641. You quite rightly point out that it should be dealt with quickly, in privacy and dealt with cheaply but then, of course, where there is legal redress they say, "We do not get involved". I just want to pursue this, Guy Black said, "We are not complacent. We know that we not perfect". Professor Robert Pinker echoed that and then said, "I say it again, we are a small organisation".

  He went onto say, we have to use the limited resources in ways in which we can maximise our return. What if this Committee were to make certain recommendations which would involve the PCC maybe being more proactive, maybe saying it would take-up issues that are currently dealt both in the criminal and civil courts and might even make a recommendation, I do not what conclusions it would come to, to deal with third party complaints. Then, what if Guy Black were to say to you, "To do that we would need considerably more money because we cannot do this as a small organisation". How would you react?
  (Sir Harry Roche) I sat and listened to the evidence this afternoon and I do not think he ever said that the Commission suffers from a lack of resources. He was not giving that as a reason why—

  642. "Small organisation".
  (Sir Harry Roche) It is certainly a small organisation. I think in that sense he was talking about a head count rather than anything else. The way the model has been built, as I say, on the proposals in the Calcutt Committee that is what was required.

  643. If he wanted more head count he would need more money, how would you react if there was such a request?
  (Sir Harry Roche) If the request came then obviously the industry by using Pressbof would have to evaluate that request and make a decision. Over the 12 years or so that the Commission has been running the Commission has come back and said we need more money because there has been a judicial review and large legal expenses that were not anticipated and Pressbof has accommodated that and we have never had a problem. In terms of asking for money to deal with third party complaints or become more proactive I think that is something that the industry would have to consider very carefully. It is my personal view that the industry would not be happy because we reacted to the first Calcutt Report, then the second one, and we all argued, and it was said this afternoon, and I was very pleased to hear that members of the Committee agreed, that standards have improved over that time. We are moving in the right direction all of the time. In a sense it is almost a philosophical thing about how you run this self-regulation process.

  644. Why do you think the industry would be unhappy if it were to be more proactive with third party complaints?
  (Sir Harry Roche) The industry would say it was unhappy.

  645. Why do you think it would say that?
  (Sir Harry Roche) A lot of people in the industry, including me, remember what happened with the Press Council. In the end the Press Council lost all credibility because it was spending lots of money on proactive activities, reports into football stadium disasters with nobody asking them to do it, of its own volition and then people saying, that is all very interesting but that is not what this is all about. The whole focus of the PCC from the start has to been to resolve complainants' complaints as quickly as possible and as fairly as possible. The industry believes, as the Commission believes, that the progress that is being made on that basis since it was introduced has been considerable.

  646. 1.7 million of the budget you say, what percentage is that of the total turnovers of the organisation who help fund your organisation?
  (Sir Harry Roche) It is very, very small, I could not tell you, obviously it would be very small.


  647. Could I just follow up one of the points that Michael Fabricant has made to you, you made a fair point about the old Press Council and the way it got involved in all kind of things which were on the margins of its remit, if you care to put it that way, it is rather like the Electoral Commission, I am a member of the Speakers' Committee on the Electoral Commission, I obviously cannot go into the proceedings of that Committee, but what I can say is that I am concerned that the Electoral Commission is involving itself in a lot of things which the statute does not require it to do but it may say that the statute enables it to do. I certainly go along with you in the point that you put to Michael Fabricant, that if an organisation is set up for one purpose that is what it ought to get on with. There is proactive and proactive, is there not? To start getting involved in the kind of things you mentioned certainly they could be regarded as extraneous for the purpose. I must say, I do not know if you were here, I think you were, I found it somewhat baffling that Mr Black was so resistant to the idea that it might have been a good idea when the war broke out for the PCC to send a note round to editors reminding them of the provisions of the code in the sadly inevitable eventuality of some of our servicemen being killed in the war.
  (Sir Harry Roche) This is purely a personal view, that rather came out the way the question developed. I do not think anybody would argue that it is not the sensible thing to do if that is the situation. Often the Commission has. I can remember Lord Wakeham when he was Chairman circulating to editors his guidance in terms of the royal princes and their education. It has been proactive in the past. I do not want to make Guy Black's case for him, or argue that, but I think it is a question really of how proactive you are going to be. Certainly there are instances where it has been proactive and it has been very proactive in publicising its activities. As Guy said, and he speaks all over Europe and so does Professor Pinker and indeed internationally. Professor Pinker lectures abroad in terms of self-regulation and is invited to do so by many bodies. Word is being spread in a proactive sense about the Commission and the way it conducts its self-regulatory processes.

Mr Flook

  648. Could you tell us a little bit about the Pressbof finance and how many colleagues you have and how often they might chop and change, because you seem to have been there since 1990.
  (Sir Harry Roche) I am about to step down at the end of this year.

  649. How will your successor be chosen?
  (Sir Harry Roche) First of all Pressbof is a board of directors composed of the representatives of the trade organisations in the newspapers and magazine publishing industry, there are 12 altogether, including the secretary and treasurer. The trade organisations elect their own representatives to sit on Pressbof. When I informed the Board some months ago now that I wished to stand down at the end of this year I proposed that the directors of the trade organisations should form a committee to make recommendations to the Board as to who would be a suitable candidate to replace me. I think the announcement was made either yesterday or today, I am not sure.

  650. Is yours a remunerated position?
  (Sir Harry Roche) Yes, it is. It was not originally. I was Chairman and Chief Executive of the Guardian Media Group, so I was actually Chairman of Pressbof in the Guardian's time. When I retired from the Guardian the Pressbof Board, I did not ask them, they voted me for a remuneration.

  651. All good committees have a very strong Chairman, this one is no different. The reason for raising that is one of your most important tasks is to choose the Chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, can you take us through how Sir Christopher Meyer was chosen. Did I not here the Prime Minister saying, "Leave him where he is at the moment".
  (Sir Harry Roche) As I understand it he starts next week, unless the Prime Minister—

  652. He has already left Washington.
  (Sir Harry Roche) He has left Washington, yes.

  653. We can go through his application.
  (Sir Harry Roche) One of the responsibilities of the Chairman of Pressbof is to think about the succession of the Chairman of the Commission. When Lord Wakeham announced he wished to stand on one side[119]Pressbof decided that position was not tenable so we negotiated the cessation of his contract. What happened then was Pressbof elected a sub committee of the Board. The trade organisations were asked to make proposals in terms of who they thought may be a good successor to Lord Wakeham.

  654. How many were on that short-list?
  (Sir Harry Roche) In the end there were 16 or 17 people. We also asked the lay commissioners and I think, I will not swear to this, the mechanics were dealt with by headhunters, and they came up with a list of 16 or 17 people. The Pressbof selection sub committee met with the headhunters and with the headhunters we graded out of those 16 or 17 six names and we put them in the order of what the headhunters and we felt were the people we would like to look at first. We decided to interview on a sequential basis because we were dealing with pretty high profile figures, this is exactly what we did with Lord Wakeham when Lord McGregor stood down. The sub-committee met and interviewed Sir Christopher Meyer, reported to the Pressbof Board, went through the reasons why and we unanimously agreed—it is yet to be proved—we think that he is going to be a good chairman of the PCC. That report was accepted unanimously by the Pressbof Board. We then announced it.

  655. I am glad you brought up the subject of using headhunters. I was worried when Miss Hepworth earlier said she was there because she knew Guy Black.
  (Sir Harry Roche) I think she has given the wrong impression there.

  656. Could you therefore help us?
  (Sir Harry Roche) I understand why you are asking the question. I have been on the Appointments Commission of the PCC as Chairman of Pressbof since the Appointments Commission was constituted and I am the only industry member. The Appointments Commission meets a couple of times a year. We have a panel of names that we look at, I am responsible for feeding through to the other members of the Commission the editorial people that have been put forward to sit on the Complaints Commission. By and large the other three lay members of the Appointments Commission bring up names for lay members. That is the way the process works. What we try to do is to have people in our minds, as it were, so that we can keep the membership of the Complaints Commission rolling over so that people do not serve too long or too short a period on the Commission. That is the way that it works. She may well know Guy Black and it may be that Guy may have suggested to one of the lay members of the Appointments Commission this was a good person. I should say to you this is the first time I ever met her, I have gone through her CV and—

  657. You can see where we are coming from in terms of cosy cartels—
  (Sir Harry Roche) I agree with you absolutely. I say quite categorically to you that that is not the case. I know the way that question and answer came out it may have sounded like that. That is not the case. On the very first Appointments Commission the present Lord Chancellor was a member and he and I never had any differences on how the Appointments Commission worked, we had differences on one or two other things, that is another matter. I would argue the Appointments Commission works very well, it is independent, I am the only industry member, it is not cosy, although that answer may have made it appear that way.

Mr Doran

  658. Can you say a bit more to me about Pressbof. From your own submission it was not clear how you are constituted and what your relationship is.
  (Sir Harry Roche) It is a company limited by guarantee. Calcutt said that the industry should fund the self-regulatory body he was recommending, the way we came to that was the all of the trade bodies met, decided that it had to be one central body, we did not want different trade bodies trying to influence a regulatory process in the way that they saw.

  659. When you say trade bodies it is not just newspapers?
  (Sir Harry Roche) It is NPA, the National Newspapers, the Regional Press and Newspaper Society, the Periodical Publishers Association, magazines, the Scottish daily newspapers and the Scottish national newspapers. We came together and we had to work out how we were going to arrange to finance it. Obviously we had to produce a first shot budget. What we did was we took the proportions of contribution to the old Press Council and applied them to the trade bodies, so the newspapers pay much more overall of the bill than the magazines.

119   Footnote by witness: due to the ENRON situtation. Back

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