Examination of Witness (Questions 660-677)
TUESDAY 25 MARCH 2003
660. You are the repository of the industry
slush fund. You hold the purse strings?
(Sir Harry Roche) Yes, we do. The registration fee,
which is what the subscription from each office is termed, is
geared to circulation, so the amount that each periodical or newspaper
pays is geared to how large or small it is.
661. You described your relationship with the
PCC and the appointments and the role you play in that, I understand
that. In terms of the other business of the PCC can you explain,
do you have any role in relation to the direction it takes or
its policy development or anything like that?
(Sir Harry Roche) Yes. Not in a formal sense, although
the Press Complaints Commission has to ratify codes, changes to
the code of practice, so that enables the lay members to have
their voice. Pressbof also have to ratify the change, or at least
has to note the changes and agree them. It is basically set up
as such that it is the Commission that ratifies the proposed changes
from the committee but Pressbof also has a view on that.
662. That view is fed into the PCC when it is
making policy changes?
(Sir Harry Roche) Periodically, we do hold the purse
strings and we want to know that the money is spent properly,
we invite the director and the chairman of the Commission to join
our Board meeting for a period, so they answer questions.
663. In your submission I note when you cover
sanctions in Clause 7 you mention that in 1993 Pressbof agreed
that in the 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 to any disciplinary action.
Have you any idea how often that sanction has been used? By drawing
it to the attention of the newspaper the journalist will be disciplined?
(Sir Harry Roche) The editor will be disciplined.
664. An editor and a journalist?
(Sir Harry Roche) My only knowledge of that sanction,
it is a pretty serious misdemeanour as far as the industry is
665. It is important to us to know that these
sanctions exist because it does not come across from the PCC.
(Sir Harry Roche) An editor that appeared before you
earlier suffered that sanction. He was then the editor of the
News of the World and the publisher's attention was drawn to what
happened and I think he issued one apology and it was not considered
sufficient and he had to issue a further apology.
666. How often is that used?
(Sir Harry Roche) There may be one other instance,
one other very early one. There may have been three.
667. One thing that strikes about me your evidence
in the submission is that you distance yourself from the PCC a
little but you are saying more or less the same things. You express
a view on behalf of industry, and I can understand that. What
is intriguing me, you probably heard some of the evidence earlier,
you seem anxious to answer the questions and clarify and at the
same time we heard a number of editors, and we saw the PCC this
afternoon, who are taking a much more aggressive approach, and
it strikes me as a very, very defensive approach and it concerns
me about the way in which the whole case for the PCC has been
presented. As somebody who sat in court and questioned witnesses
I am used to trying to judge what somebody is trying to say and
it immediately makes me suspicious. I do not know if you were
here when I made this point to Guy Black and the others earlier,
why do youand you are in possibly a much stronger position
as holder of the purse strings, controller of the budgettake
such a different position from theirs? Is that an unfair question
to ask you?
(Sir Harry Roche) The Committee's questioning of me
is different as well, there is no point in having rows if you
can discuss things sensibly. I will answer to the best of my ability:
(a), I do not think that the Commission are defensive.
668. They were certainly aggressive
(Sir Harry Roche) They may be aggressive but that
comes from fact they do genuinely feel they have done a good job
in improving standards.
669. I think we accept that.
(Sir Harry Roche) I suspect, and I have not talked
to them, they feel that rather than that being recognised they
are being picked up on by other things which I suppose you could
say irritates them, it is not for me to say. I sat and listened
but I cannot speak for them in that sense. It is important that
the Committee understands that the whole industry feels that the
Commission has done a good job. I get no complaints from the way
the Commission carries out its business. Going back to an earlier
point, if for reasons we understand they need more money, there
has never been any carping round the Pressbof table. The mind
set of the industry, those that have been there from the beginning,
Professor Pinker and myself, was very much the Press Council is
in complete disarray and has no income and we have got to react
properly to Calcutt, and we believe we did that. We made some
changes following the second Calcutt Report, we made some changes
following this Committee's 1993 report and I think the members
representing the Commission feel they have done a very good job.
They also, not just on the basis of reports that changes have
been made, genuinely, the industry and Commission, feel that a
lot of progress has been made. If it came over as aggression that
was not meant, that is my view.
670. One of the difficulties we have, you heard
me say earlier I recognise and most of the other members of the
Committee recognise, there is a sea-change from the situation
we have now from 10 years ago, there is no question about that,
and the issue for us is that the world has changed but there is
not another industry where there is a regulator where it is self-regulatory
or a statutory regulator that has quite the same, how should I
put it, it is not flexibility, it certainly seems laxity in relation
to the sanctions and the way in which it functions. The lack of
openness, lack of transparency, the inability to impose penalties
(Sir Harry Roche) There are several questions there.
I just do not understand why people think there is a lack of openness
and accountability. The Commission produce a report every quarter
where it lists every adjudication it makes and it is circulated
very widely indeed and it is on its website, they are not trying
671. New appointments, you will have to correct
the impression that one witness gave earlier?
(Sir Harry Roche) That was one answer which has given
the wrong impression and hopefully what I said now has given the
right impression. I can say quite categorically I am the one from
the industry involved in the appointment to the Commission, the
others are all lay. I understand the way that the answer was made
why you should feel that. I honestly believe, that is wrong.
672. I know that my colleagues want to get in,
this has been a long day, the world round us is changing and I
look at the supplementary evidence which the Commission sent to
us, particularly on some of the legal issues, the Peck
case, and an attempt to say that has not changed anything because
it was before the Human Rights Act, et cetera. That certainly
does not seem to be the case to me, if your position in Pressbofwhich
I think is an unfortunate name it could become Oppresswere
you not careful, if you are aware of these changes, if there is
pressure coming to the legal system for law on privacy or implementing
the Peck case and ensure there is some form of redress,
are you the person who puts the pressure on or will be forced
to respond to the position of your shareholders?
(Sir Harry Roche) Pressbof could raise with the Commission
that type of question if it was concerned. I know, certainly senior
executives in the industry have met judges to discuss where self-regulation
is going and listened to their views. If there is something that
comes from that that is reported to Pressbof it will then be passed
to the Commission. In terms of Pressbof's view on the Peck
case I am not in a position to say.
673. It is really recognising that the world
is changing in the process that might see the PCC move some way
to meeting all of the criticisms.
(Sir Harry Roche) Pressbof's job is to interface with
the Commission on that basis, that is one of the reasons we invite
the director and chairman to attend part of our meetings and ask
them to report what is going on from their point of view. I do
not believe that the industry has closed its mind to change, if
it perceives it to be necessary then the industry will act. That
is the industry as opposed to the Commission, although I do not
believe that the Commission has closed its mind to change. I feel
the Commission felt rather aggrieved this afternoon they thought
they had done a better job than the Committee may have given them
674. The problem was two exceptions, we could
not see any reason why there should be, this is an open inquiry.
(Sir Harry Roche) I can give you my view on the editors
but I will not unless you ask me to.
675. I just wonder given that you straddled
both sides and you are retiring shortly whether there is anything
that you would change in the PCC or whether you think it is more
or less pretty hunky-dory?
(Sir Harry Roche) The PCC itself, I am happy with
the process, the way they reach their adjudication and the various
lay majority, I have no concerns on that basis. I think from a
personal point of view one thing I would like to see, and we have
not achieved it, although we have gone a long way, is to get to
a position which every editor and every journalist has the code
in their contract of employment.
676. Curiously the Mail on Sunday does
but the Mail on Sunday has the most complaints, a fat lot
of good it does. Let us not go down that road. From largely the
broadsheet editors there is some sort of feeling there should
be some sort of backstop power, what is your view about that?
(Sir Harry Roche) I disagree with that. That was the
Guardian view and when Alan was appointed editor I respected
his view, we know that we differ with one another on some of these
issues. I do not see what a backstop can give to the process as
it stands and people can, as was explained earlier, appeal if
they feel they have not been dealt with properly. Why should one
person have the expertise that a Commission of 16 has not got?
It seems to me to be simply introducing another layer and making
it longer before a complaint is settled. The Commission is very,
very proud of the speed in which the complaints are settled.
677. Thank you, Sir Harry, you ought to give
training lessons in how to deal with a certain Committee. I would
like to thank you for your courtesy and patience.
(Sir Harry Roche) Thank you.