press complaints commission

A man who died after being tasered by police with a 50,000 volt stun gun was not breaking into property as thought but actually visiting friends for a birthday drink. 

Adrian Thompson became unresponsive after being bundled into a police car and taken into custody in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, having been stunned. A call to the police suggested he was breaking into the property, but a friend has now insisted the 34-year-old had been invited to the scene in the early hours of Monday morning. His death is now being investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.  

 A 22-year-old local resident, who did not want to be named, said he heard Thompson shout ‘help me’ after the stun gun was fired at around 1.45am. He added: ‘There were seven or eight police and I saw them dragging this bloke out.’

Police brutality in the UK

The Leveson Inquiry: How to have a free press

As I have a little bit of a background in law and media, I thought I would give my view on how we can have a free and regulated press.

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The main arguments surrounding the regulation of the press debate seems to be that any regulation would resulted in the loss of a free press and any lack of regulation would result in things like the News of the World scandal happening again.

Journalists claim that only self regulation through the PCC can lead to a free press. The public see the PCC as a joke and failure. Both are true and the solution relatively simple.

Let me start with giving some example rules that the press could follow:

Privacy

  1. Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.
  2. Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual’s private life without consent. Account will be taken of the complainant’s own public disclosures of information.
  3. It is unacceptable to photograph individuals in private places without their consent.

Harrassment

  1. Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.
  2. They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on their property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.
  3. Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.

Clandestine devices and subterfuge

  1. The press must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by using hidden cameras or clandestine listening devices; or by intercepting private or mobile telephone calls, messages or emails; or by the unauthorised removal of documents or photographs; or by accessing digitally-held private information without consent.
  2. Engaging in misrepresentation or subterfuge, including by agents or intermediaries, can generally be justified only in the public interest and then only when the material cannot be obtained by other means.

These rules seem pretty clear cut and fair to me. They are also taken from the Code of Conduct written by editors and journalists and enforced by the PCC. So if these rules exist, why has everything gone wrong?

Because the PCC is both judge, jury and executioner. Whenever one body has the responsibility to write rules and enforce rules, corruption exists. It is the same reason why our unwritten constitution separates the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. Imagine the chaos of going back to the medieval period where the King wrote the rules and enforced the rules. How many miscarridges of justice have been enshrined in history?

So, the solution? Keep the rules and keep the PCC but have a separate body that is responsible for the enforcement. You can never enforce rules against yourself. I know how difficult it is just to keep to my own no chocolate rule.

I told you it was simple.

Beware the wounded beast: Murdoch's revenge

So the non-Murdoch media has got its way: Rupert’s News Corp has abandoned its plans to acquire the rest of BSkyB.  This is a “huge humiliation” shrieks in his usual staccato style the BBC’s Robert Peston.  He’s on the story, apparently because he lives near the Guardian’s editor; the Guardian, as you’ll know, is the key driver of the campaign to clip Murdoch’s wings.

This is not the end of the crisis though: other countries’ authorities are now looking at whether Murdoch’s papers have misbehaved there; Rebekah Brooks is still in post, a situation the media will continue to challenge, and we still have Lord Leveson’s judicial inquiry with its dual remit to come.  The first, the one the Guardian and Peston wanted, will examine news hacking and other dodgy deeds by the now dead News of the World.  The second, I suspect they did not expect, will have a broader remit of examining other media ethics issues and the thorny subject of regulation.  It is this element of the inquiry, I believe, that will provide Murdoch’s revenge.

If you look at the behaviour of the British media, you’ll see commonality between the News of the World and all other papers.  Tell me a newspaper which hasn’t waiting until the last minute to put an allegation to a company (thereby denying it a fair opportunity to respond), and I’ll tell you it does do it.  They all do.  They all oppose the emerging law of privacy and get very excited that social media sites like Twitter “defeat the law” by exposing who has taken out an injunction.  They were all happy to hide behind the non-regulator that was the Press Complaints Commission.  They’ve all be pressing for a relaxation in libel law - “it’s out of date… an embarrassment to Britain”.  Funny how any potential constraint on the media is presented in such a negative way.  Not in the public interest, they claim.  Self interest, in my view.  

Back to Murdoch: the real legacy, I hope, of the phone hacking scandal should be a proper, independent regulator that stops the true abuses by the media.  I’m not talking about constraining the reporting of matters of genuine public interest - like Panorama’s recent expose on abuse in care homes, a fantastic piece of journalism which lifts the lid on a matter of genuine public interest.  I’m talking about intrusion in private lives - like the dreadful story the Sun ran about Fraser Brown: why is the news that a small child has an awful illness anyone’s business but his family’s, irrespective of the source of the story?  The truth is that this is gutter journalism.  I really wonder how Rebekah Brooks would feel it she had a child whose illness was outed in the Sunday Mirror.  I’m sure a news story would not be in the public interest then.  I’m also talking about newspapers not printing false rumours, speculation and lies, and then refusing to correct errors, or placing any correction in a tiny box buried in a desert deep within a poorly read part of a publication.

We need a regulator with teeth, a regulator that will intervene pre-publication to stop bad journalism reaching the presses. That regulator must be an organisation that can help victims of media attack both big and small, cheaply, quickly and effectively.  That regulator is not the PCC; it’s not Ofcom; it’s not Parliament.   I’ve dreamed of a truly independent media regulator for years. Now, thanks to Rupert Murdoch, it looks like it’s coming: Rupert’s revenge on the entire UK media.

PCC RIP: the new press regulator must be untainted by its ineffectual predecessor

I had the misfortune to hear Lord Hunt, former chair of the PCC, on the radio last week giving an interview that blatantly tried to sell three messages:

1.  The replacement for the PCC will be a “regulator with teeth” (a phrase he threw into almost every sentence of his responses, almost to the point of being monotonous), and

2. The PCC was criticised “because it did not have the powers it needed.”

3. Hunt concluded that Leveson has asked the media to crack on with sorting out its own approach to regulation before he publishes his report into phone hacking and the bribery of public officials.

This really was the most incredible piece of spin I’ve ever heard, and simply does not stand up to scrutiny.

I agree with Hunt that the new regulator must have real teeth.  Without teeth what’s the point of a regulator, one asks. And that leads me to draw the conclusion that what Hunt was really saying was that the PCC was toothless, an ineffectual waste of time designed simply to allow newspaper editors to claim the industry could sort out disputes itself.   Perhaps that’s my spin but, I would say that in all my years of managing disputes with the media, I cannot recall any situation in which an ordinary (non Royal) client complained, where the PCC admonished any newspaper for reporting errors or editorial eye-closing.   The PCC always found no breach of the Code…

But according to its apologist, Hunt argues this is not the PCC’s fault.  It simply didn’t have the powers to bear any teeth.  I find this an interesting spin: an industry’s self-regulatory body, set up by and managed by the industry, cannot decide upon giving its own watchdog the powers it needs to take action (and only mentions this fact when it is totally discredited).  Hunt must think the world is simple if he thinks this argument will wash.  It does not.  And this simple demonstrates by Hunt and anyone connected with the PCC must play no role whatsoever in the any new regulator.  They are tainted by their gummy approach to media dispute non-resolution.

So as for Hunt’s statement that, as the chair of a discredited, soon to be defunct, inept and ineffective body, that he will crack on in setting up a regulator for one of nation’s most important industries, the keeper of our public reputation, he clearly has lost the plot: the media cannot be allowed to brush inaccuracy and illegality under the carpet any longer.  This would be a disservice to the very many law abiding and accurate journalists out there who report on matters of genuine public interest and impact on a daily basis.  The PCC damaged journalism.  Hunt must not be allowed to damage it further.  The new regulator must not be designed or appointed by the tainted editorial apologists of the PCC.  Press freedom requires a free and independent regulator, with (and I agree with Hunt on this) real teeth.  Let’s hear what Leveson has to say before we allow PCC 2 the sequel to be imposed on good journalists across the land.