Memorandum submitted by Terence Ewing


I would make the following more detailed submissions relating to the lack of independence and impartiality on the objective test of the Press Complaints Commission.


1. The Press Commission is a private limited company set up as a charity in order to purportedly police discretions and breaches of the Press Complaints Commission Code by editors and journalists employed by newspapers.


2. As such, it hasn't been created by an Act of Parliament and therefore has no certainty of function other than a private company.


3. It is contended that this is totally unacceptable, given the powerful and influential role played by Newspapers, their editors and journalists in forming public opinion and disseminating information to the general public regarding both individuals and issues of both local and national importance in respect of all spheres of activity.


4. The Commission is financed by a so called arms length separate company called Press Boff, which collects dues and fees from the newspaper industry itself and then passes this on to the Press Complaints Commission in order to fund it.


5. The Commission claims that this preserves its independence, but in reality, this is a ploy to give a false appearance of financial independence to the Commission. Press Boff can also appoint and remove the Chairman of the Commission.


6. In reality, the Commission is financed by the newspaper industry itself via a front company, and is therefore financed by the very organisations that it is supposed to be overseeing and regulating.


7. The various editors of the newspapers itself draft the Press Code of Conduct again which the Commission is supposed to be overseeing and regulating.


8. The Committee of Editors is responsible for the Code and making any amendments to it and most of the leading editors of the national newspapers are on the Committee responsible for the Code.

9. There is no right to any oral hearing for complainants before the Press Complaints Commission and complaints are determined on the papers.


10. Further, the Commission doesn't have any regulated code of procedure for conducting its proceedings whatsoever, and such procedures as it adopts in respect of its determinations are therefore made up on the hoof to suit the particular cases that it deals with.


11. All of its deliberations are held behind closed doors and members of the public are not entitled to attend any of them, as would be the case with tribunals or courts of law.


12. There is also no power for the Commission to obtain any documents from the newspapers concerned, and unless the editor of the newspaper in respect of which a complaint has been lodged decides to furnish the Commission with copies of any documents, the Commission's deliberations take place without full disclosure being made to it by the newspaper concerned.


13. The Commission has no powers to levy fines on any newspaper found to be in breach of the Code, nor do they have any powers of disqualification in respect of rogue editors or journalists.


14. It has to be conceded that unlike police officers, doctors, accountants, lawyers and other professional bodies; there are currently no provisions for journalists to be registered with any professional body, or to have any form of practicing certificate that could be revoked by any disciplinary body that could be set up by Act of Parliament.


15. There may well be a good case for introducing Practicing Certificates, so that a body set up by Parliament if a breach of their Code of Practice was found to have taken place can disqualify holders.


16. The make up of the Commission consists of a number of editors of leading newspapers and a token element of lay members; the Commission claim gives an appearance of independence.


17. This is of course total nonsense, as it is clear that the editors themselves hold the sway when the Commission deliberates, and they clearly influence the lay members to go along with their way of thinking.


18. The editors may well know the particular editor being complained against, and it is a situation of editors judging other editors.


19. This type of undesirable situation has been remedied in respect of police complaints with the setting up of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, to get rid of the previous complaints by the public that police officers were investigating and judging fellow police officers.


20. The editors therefore sit on their own committee to judge complaints, when their fellow editors actions are under scrutiny, and when other editors have been responsible for drafting the Code of Conduct.


21. There is no proper review or appeals procedure in respect of challenging decisions of the PCC, and it is contended that complaints to the Independent Charter Commissioner are not an adequate remedy.


22. The Independent Charter Commissioner, including the present one, Sir Brian Cubborn, is appointed by the Press Complaints Commission itself, and he has no powers to overturn the Commission's decision, and may only investigate the manner in which the Commission conducted their investigation.


I also enclose for the information of the Committee one of a number of tape recordings made by me in respect of a journalist Mr. David Foggo who is currently employed by the Sunday Times.


I would also add that in my opinion, he is a rogue journalist who is unprofessional and makes up malicious and false allegations using the smear tactics associated with tabloid journalism.


I would point out that his allegations concerning me regarding accepting monies are totally denied, but he makes assertions about the Press Complaints Commission that I feel should be brought to the Committee's attention.


In my view, he treats the Press Complaints Commission as a mere occupational hazard, and not one worthy of taking seriously.


He seems to suggest that dealing with the Press Complaints Commission is merely a "piece of cake" and easily brushed aside.


Possibly he feels that he can adopt this stance, because he of course knows that it has no teeth and at the end of the day the worst it can do is publish details of its adjudication on its web site.


I have no doubt that all other journalists employed by both broadsheets and tabloid newspapers have a similar attitude, because until there is a body set up with some teeth, the newspaper industry will not take it seriously, especially when they are paying for it by contributions to Press Boff.


Like all organisations, regulatory bodies are only taken seriously if the bodies that are subject to its jurisdiction know that it has disciplinary powers and the power to levy fines and disqualify offenders in appropriate cases.


Of course, like the police they may choose to ignore the body until they are brought to account, and as in the case of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, it is only as good as the people appointed to run it.


As you will be aware, it was seriously criticised over it's handling of the Charles de Menendez affair, and its testing will now come with the current complaints regarding the G20 protests investigations.


However, it cannot I think be said that it isn't independent and impartial from the police on the objective test.


It is therefore contended that a similar statutory body should be set up by Act of Parliament in respect of complaints against the press, with the appropriate safeguards in place to guarantee independence and impartiality, and possessing strong disciplinary powers.


April 2009