Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 660-677)



  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 concerned—

  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 you—and you are in possibly a much stronger position as holder of the purse strings, controller of the budget—take 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 for example.
  (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 to—

  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 Pressbof—which I think is an unfortunate name it could become Oppress—were 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 credit for.

  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.

Derek Wyatt

  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.

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