Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Fifth Report

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  Ofcom must seize the opportunity presented by its new structure to undertake a thorough review, including wide consultation, of how complaints against the broadcasters should be tackled and on the substance of a new code upon which the system will rest. In the meantime, and under the new arrangements, we recommend the continuation of hearings for complex cases (but we see no good reason why the complainant cannot make a full record of the proceedings). (Paragraph 0)

2.  We were not at all convinced that door-stepping, by a film crew, of people who have refused, sometimes in writing, to be interviewed is really done to give the subjects of a programme a final opportunity to put their side of the story. The motivation is surely less judicial and more about entertaining footage. Such intrusion, and broadcasting the result, should only be undertaken in important cases of significant public interest. (Paragraph 0)

3.  The BBC should respond to the preference of individuals for their privacy complaints to be dealt with by an external body (previously the Broadcasting Standards Commission) and should either increase the demonstrable independence of its own system or refer complaints to Ofcom if the initial response from the programme-makers does not resolve the situation. The BBC should participate fully in the Ofcom review that we recommend above. (Paragraph 0)

4.  Ofcom and all the broadcasters should engage with the PCC and the press industry to develop ways of tackling the media scrums that still seem to gather at the scent of a story. Described by Lord Wakeham as "a form of collective harassment" this is a matter that must be capable of being sorted out—especially when it is the victims of violent events, or their families, that are involved. (Paragraph 0)

5.  Of necessity we reserve our judgement on the precise arrangements to be established by Ofcom. This is a matter to which we may well return. (Paragraph 0)

6.  Notwithstanding the PCC's avowed intent to secure resolution between parties to a complaint if possible, we recommend that the PCC consider establishing a twin-track procedure. The new provision would be to respond to those complainants who did not want mediation but wanted the Commission to make a judgement in reference to the Code on their case (after the normal exchange of papers) without this insistence prejudicing the result. At the very least the Commission should make an assessment amongst complainants as to the level of demand for such an innovation. (Paragraph 0)

7.  There are a number of issues that arise in advance of the publication of a story that do not amount to "prior restraint" or "press censorship". We believe that the PCC should consider establishing a dedicated pre-publication team to handle inquiries about these issues from the public and liaison with the relevant editor on the matters raised. This team should also handle issues related to media harassment, including the production and promotion of guidance to both press and the public, liaison with the broadcasters and the transmission of "desist messages" from those who do not want to talk to the media. The first job for the pre-publication team should be the collaborative work with Ofcom on "media scrums" that we recommend above. (Paragraph 62)

8.  We recommend that the Code Committee, Pressbof and the Commission, consider the following in relation to the Code of Conduct. (Paragraph 63)

9.  The Code's ban on intercepting telephone calls should be updated to reflect the communications revolution (in line with the provisions of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000) and should include reference to the privacy of people's correspondence by e-mail and between mobile devices other than telephones. (Paragraph 63.i)

10.  An additional element of the Code should be that journalists are enabled to refuse an assignment on the grounds that it breaches the Code and, if necessary, refer the matter to the Commission without prejudice. (Paragraph 63.ii)

11.  The Code should explicitly ban payments to the police for information and there should also be a ban on the use and payment of intermediaries, such as private detectives, to extract or otherwise obtain private information about individuals from public and private sources, again especially the police. (Paragraph 63.iii)

12.  We welcome the assurance of the Chairman of the PCC that the selection of candidates for the role of lay commissioner would be put on a proper, open and transparent footing from now on. We note his undertaking to have a further lay commissioner, appointed under such arrangements, in place before the end of 2003. (Paragraph 65)

13.  67. We believe that the Commission would command more confidence in the independence of its membership if it adopted the following proposals:

14.  Lay members should be sought and appointed for fixed terms under open procedures including advertisement and competition. (Paragraph 67.i)

15.  Press members should be appointed for fixed terms from across the industry. There should be an explicit presumption that they are not there to represent the interests of their associations but to offer the benefits of their particular experience whilst acting independently as members of a quasi-judicial body. (Paragraph 67.ii)

16.  Press members (and here we include members of the Code Committee) who preside over persistently offending publications should be required to stand down and should be ineligible for reappointment for a period—perhaps the length of a term of office. Persistence could be defined as "three strikes and you're out". (Paragraph 67.iii)

17.  The lay majority should be increased by at least one; as provided for in the PCC's Articles and accepted by Sir Christopher Meyer, the new PCC Chairman. (Paragraph 67.iv)

18.  The Appointments Commission should appoint an independent figure, also under the new procedures, to implement the procedural appeals process to which Sir Christopher has referred. To this responsibility we would add the task of commissioning a regular external audit of the PCC's processes and practices—a version of accreditation. While the "standard" would probably be unique to the PCC, the methodology has been pretty well-established throughout the corporate world. (Paragraph 67.v)

19.  The Code Committee, which at the moment is composed entirely of editors, should be re-established with a significant minority of lay members. (Paragraph

20.  We recommend that the PCC, under its new Chairman, considers the case for taking a more consistent approach to foreseeable events that herald intense media activity and people in grief and shock; and for acting as soon as possible after unexpected disasters have occurred. This may be another appropriate responsibility of the pre-publication team. (Paragraph 72)

21.  79. The text of a PCC adjudication should be clearly and consistently set out to ensure its visibility and easy identification as proposed by Sir Christopher Meyer, the new Chairman of the Commission. However, we urge that the design of this 'branding' must avoid duplicating the appearance of an advertisement which may cause it to be skipped automatically by some readers. (Paragraph 79)

22.  We therefore recommend that any publication required to publish a formal PCC adjudication must include a prominent reference to that adjudication on its front page—in effect a 'taster' for the judgement. (Paragraph 80)

23.  81. In addition we recommend that the PCC's annual report contains an additional feature-something familiar and popular amongst newspapers—a league table showing how publications have performed against the Code that year. (Paragraph 81)

24.  We believe that annotating press archives as to their accuracy and sensitivity should be automatic in all serious cases, and certainly all upheld adjudications, and furthermore that the publication should be responsible for removing the relevant article from publicly available databases. (Paragraph 82)

25.  84. We believe that the PCC, Pressbof and the industry would benefit, in terms of public confidence, if they formed a consensus around two new elements of the system; one gently punitive and one modestly compensatory: (Paragraph 84)

26.  Pressbof should introduce a gearing between the calculation of the registration fee and the number of adverse adjudications received by a publication in the previous year; and (Paragraph 84.i)

27.  The industry should consider agreeing a fixed scale of compensatory awards to be made in serious cases (which in any case according to the evidence from the industry and the PCC are few and far between). If these were fixed in advance, a matter of consensus and relatively modest, we can see no reason for lawyers to be involved. Consideration could be given to the making the award to a charity of the complainant's choice rather than directly. (Paragraph 84.ii)

28.  We strongly urge the PCC and the industry to consider the matter of complainants' costs and agree that, where justified complaints have involved particular financial burdens on the complainant such as the acquisition of a transcript of a trial or inquest (but not legal fees), then those costs must be met by the offending newspaper. We believe anything else to be invidious and a shifting of the burden of proof from the newspaper, which made the original claims, to the complainant who has been found to have been traduced or otherwise injured. In the light of the PCC's battle cry of "fast, free and fair" we believe this to have nothing to do with the debate over punitive or compensatory awards. (Paragraph 85)

29.  If the Board and the Code Committee are totally unwilling to accept the introduction of lay members to the latter, then we believe that the industry has a sufficient input into agreeing the Code and that Pressbof should withdraw from the process. (Paragraph 87)

30.  We accept the offer to the Committee made by Sir Christopher Meyer to return in a year's time to report on progress. This offer will not, however, substitute for action on our own initiative and we therefore recommend that the PCC make itself available to give evidence to this Committee at regular intervals for discussions on progress with its agenda for change. (Paragraph 88)

31.  95. We cannot see how the matter of illegal payments to policemen can fail to fall within the criteria set out by the PCC for taking the initiative, or how the issue is different to the example of illegal telephone-tapping highlighted by the Commission itself. We believe the PCC must investigate. This may be best accomplished in cooperation with the Information Commissioner and the Police Complaints Authority and, if necessary, result in an addition to the Code (such as occurred on intercepting telephone calls). (Paragraph 95)

32.  On the other side of the fence, we recommend that the Home Office and police authorities also take note of the evidence from the editors of The Sun and the News of the World to us regarding payments to police officers for information and take steps to review and overhaul, if necessary, the guidance and measures aimed at preventing such behaviour by the police and media. (Paragraph 96)

33.  It is for the Information Commissioner to make sure that all public and commercial entities are aware of their responsibilities under the Data Protection Act and put in place adequate training, guidance and other mechanisms to ensure that those responsibilities are fulfilled. (Paragraph 97)

34.  On balance we firmly recommend that the Government reconsider its position and bring forward legislative proposals to clarify the protection that individuals can expect from unwarranted intrusion by anyone—not the press alone—into their private lives. This is necessary fully to satisfy the obligations upon the UK under the European Convention of Human Rights. There should be full and wide consultation but in the end Parliament should be allowed to undertake its proper legislative role. (Paragraph 111)

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