Memorandum submitted by Nick Armstrong of Charles Russell LLP
I am a partner in the solicitors' firm of Charles Russell LLP. I have specialised for over twenty years in media-related litigation. As well as acting for media organisations, largely in the field of TV (such as ITV and Channel 4), I also act for individuals and entities in media-related complaints and litigation. For example I am retained to advise employees and artists of ITV when they come under the media spotlight, and also to advise The FA and its senior employees (including the England Manager) in relation to libel and privacy matters.
Each set of facts in media-related problems demands its own particular strategy for resolution. It is wrong to think that the PCC ought to (or should ever be expected to) provide the sole source of resolution and remedy for each and every press problem, but equally wrong to think that this means the PCC is not a useful organisation, or is in some way failing in its role.
It is the job of those advising individuals and entities with problems concerning the media to decide on the most appropriate and proportionate strategy in each case, combining the various options available to achieve the best result for the client in the particular circumstances.
These options include direct negotiation with e.g. newspaper in-house lawyers (by reference to both the law and the PCC's code), discussion with the PCC e.g. in relation to any ongoing intrusion, pre-publication legal remedies such as injunction, and subsequently (following
publication) complaint to the PCC, alternative dispute resolution such as a negotiated settlement, or direct litigation.
I have found the Press Complaints Commission and the self-regulatory regime to be a useful element in the armoury available to individuals and companies who have difficulties with the press, to be deployed when certain types of issue arise. Where problematic press coverage includes factual inaccuracy (short of libellous statements), or where intrusion is an issue (e.g. individuals being pursued or having their homes surrounded by journalists or photographers), the PCC has in my experience often provided valuable elements of the strategy to be adopted. In these days where the Courts are stressing the need for parties to a dispute to engage in alternative dispute resolution wherever possible, and in any event to ensure that any action is "proportionate", the PCC can provide a cost-effective mediation process for resolving a large category of what one might term "low profile"
complaints, factual inaccuracies etc. in a proportionate and timely manner.
Where the complaint is one of libel but is not particularly serious, a correction published in the paper (and hence showing up on internet
searches) is often enough for a client, especially where the client is
impecunious and a CFA may not be appropriate. The PCC can in this way
level the playing-field for a large number of complainants facing the fearful prospect of taking on a press organisation.
The PCC cannot however be expected to cover problems which arise in relation to the press where serious, out-and-out breaches of the law are committed by the press. This often seems to be where journalists and editors think the story is so good that it is worth their while to forget or seek to evade the rules.
Where the press ignore the provisions of the PCC's Code and the general law in relation to both privacy and libel, and acts are committed which constitute legal wrongs which cause damage, I think the PCC is an inappropriate vehicle for appropriate redress to be secured. The PCC cannot be expected to provide a parallel tribunal to the Court process.
Where tortious and other acts are committed by the press, a Court of law is the appropriate and proportionate forum for redress of any damage.
Hence, for example, it seems to me proper that the recent McCann cases were pursued in through Court action, since serious wrongs had been committed, and the press seemed to have taken it into their heads to ignore the law as well as the provisions of the Code.
It should be borne in mind that those headline cases are very much the minority, and should not obscure the potentially useful role of the PCC
in a far greater number of less lurid press-related issues. Where the
press enjoys any kind of freedom, and depends on profit for survival, there will always be a relatively small number of high-profile cases where editors will try and flout (or at least get round) the law or the
self-regulatory regime. That does not mean the law or the regime are