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I do not think that the media in this country have served civil society well in the past 10 years. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, was good enough to mention that my father was a journalist. My father retired and died deeply disappointed with what he regarded as a noble profession. Auberon Waugh once said that legitimate journalism was whatever one could get away with. I suspect that many people's interpretation of the PCC code is precisely that. My noble friend Lord Lipsey does us all a favour in saying that the profession must internalise its code of practice, not find ways of avoiding and evading it.
I have one more point. I have listened many times to Alan Rusbridgerwhom I admire greatlytalking about the development of a responsible press. One of the arguments he makes in favour of the press is how extraordinarily difficult it is to edit a daily, or indeed probably a Sunday newspaper. It is a confusing, complicated and rather chaotic business, and of course at times mistakes are made.
I have total sympathy with that position, but having spent the past six years working within the machinery of government, I have to tell Mr Rusbridger and every other editor that if they think their lives are difficult, complicated and confused, they should try being the Secretary of State of a large department. It would be a good thing if editors could internalise, but the same type of error is possible within the machinery of government as every single day of the week occurs in the production of their daily newspapers.
Lord Thomson of Monifieth: I would like to say a brief word in support of my noble friend Lord McNally. He made a brave speech in the circumstances, as he may find out in due course when he gets the mud treatment from the press.
In mid life I spent a number of years not as a professional working politician but as a professional regulator. I was chairman of the Advertising Standards Authoritya totally voluntary, self-regulatory non-statutory bodyand then the regulator of commercial television with the Independent Broadcasting Authority. I have a few brief words of advice for the noble Lord, Lord Currie, whom we wish well in his new role, about the conclusions I drew from that episode in my life.
I am grateful for the nice things that have been said about the way in which the Advertising Standards Authority has established its reputation. The reasons are simple: first, the advertising industry faced the threat of statutory regulation if it did not mend its ways some years ago. Secondly, the arrangements it made had some crucial elements for any form of effective self-regulation that the Press Complaints Commission could usefully study.
First, it should have an automatic self-financing arrangement for its funds and should not need annually to go around the people it is to regulate with a begging bowl, which so often happens with such arrangements. The Advertising Standards Authority is
The Independent Broadcasting Authority was a statutory body because it had to be responsible to Parliament for the use of a scarce national resource: the spectrum. But as far as possible, the tradition of the Independent Broadcasting Authority, particularly on the advertising side but also on the regulating of standards, was as far as possible to be a self-regulatory arrangement with the statutory element a last resort.
I am afraid I do not share the optimistic view of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, that there has been a dramatic improvement in press standards over the past decade. I am glad that the new chairman of the Press Complaints Commission is conducting a review of the way it operates. He would do well to look seriously at its internal arrangements; and some of the experience of the Advertising Standards Authority might be highly relevant in enabling it to avoid the deep distrust that now operates about the way it carries out its duties.
No. 10's instincts for hospitality are a matter for No. 10. I will only remark that Attlee, who was so dismissive of the media that he could be persuaded by his press secretary Francis Williams to put a newstape machine into No. 10 only on the grounds that he would have up-to-date news of the cricket scores, has himself had a good press down the years from historians. Those facts may not be disconnected.
The PCC could look at other models. If it moved a little, that might take the heat out of the argument for statutory regulation of the press, which none of us wants. If the PCC can meet the public need voluntarily, through self-regulation, nobody would want statutory regulation, because it involves all sorts of problems.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I commend the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for introducing the subject. It has been below the surface for some time and there has been general concern about it. Six or seven years ago, while at the Broadcasting Standards Commission, I went to a conference organised entirely by the press. The concern expressed there by members of the press about the rapidly falling standards of their profession was extremely worrying.
One should also be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for spelling out in his amendment the strength of the additional powers that the new regulator, Ofcom, would have if there were breachesnot least the power to impose considerable fines.
Nevertheless, I join the noble Lords, Lord Puttnam and Lord Lipsey, in their approach. We have a new chairman, Chris Meyer, who is extremely able. The Press Complaints Commission has always had extremely able chairmen adapting to the times. At this stage, I would rather give the new chairman some time. He might well be making recommendations about the sort of changes debated, the codes for the advertising industry and so on. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for raising the issue.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, will in no way be surprised to learn that the Government believe that maintaining the freedom of the press and effective self-regulation is preferable to any form of statutory control. I shall discuss the effect of the amendment shortly. We cannot support the idea of giving Ofcom powers over the newspaper industry's code of practice,
There has been a lot of talk about the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee last week. But I remind the House that the Select Committee's report was about privacy and media intrusion, not specifically press intrusion. On reading the report in detail, I find that not only did the Select Committee not follow the path proposed by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, even for the media, but its recommendations on Ofcom's involvement were almost entirely on broadcasting. The only occasion when they suggested a relationship between Ofcom and the print media was in respect of a media scrum. In a media scrum it is very difficult to distinguish between broadcast journalists and press journalists, so there is some excuse for that relationship. That is why I think that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, quoted from the evidence to the Select Committee rather than its conclusions. It is easier to find evidence that you agree with than it is to find conclusions of the report that you agree with.
We have listened carefully to noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, who talked about changes in the past few years. I am afraid that the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, was described as complacent. All of us would agreeand he did, toothat there is still a long way to go in achieving the standards in print media that many wish to see. But I pray in aid of the Press Complaints Commission the issue of witness payments, which was raised in the House recently. In March this year the Press Complaints Commission strengthened its code on witness payments. There is evidence that, perhaps for only a short time, the situation may be improving.
I shall now discuss the wording of the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, seeks to convince the House that we should examine a report on the effectiveness of press regulation rather than introduce press regulation in the amendment. The amendment does more than that, as the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, indicated. Parliament considers the effectiveness of press regulation, as the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee has done, but it has not recommended a role for Ofcom in press regulation, and we agree with that.
Under the terms of the amendment, the industry's code would remain voluntary. The vast majority of newspapers sign up to the code of practice. Only a tiny percentage of small, independent publications have chosen to opt out. But the amendment provides that Ofcom would be required to enforce the code and have power to impose fines of up to £500,000. How does that square with a voluntary code? If a government-inspired organisation such as Ofcom starts to impose fines, surely the immediate reaction of the worst end of the press will be to opt out of the Press Complaints Commission. Where would Ofcom be then? I cannot think why an editor would voluntarily sign up to a code that meant to epitomise self-regulation if it were to be enforced by Ofcom, a state regulator.
There are many issues about the transparency of the code's operation. People fail to recognise how the Press Complaints Commission seeks to make the terms of the code more available. I welcome this debate and am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for raising the issue. We should learn from the debate that the Press Complaints Commission is under a constant obligation to itself and the people of this country to improve the code and its enforcement. I agree very much with what the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, said about that. I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Lipsey, Lord Dubs and Lord Puttnam, that there are lessons to be learned. I believe that Sir Christopher Meyer is learning those lessons. I think that he will learn from the debate today. Although I am grateful for the speeches made, I do not believe that the House should accept the amendment.
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