The complacency of the Press Complaints Council in not thoroughly probing the use of phone-hacking by newspaper journalists is breathtaking. In the wake of the jailing of News of the World royal correspondent, Clive Goodman, and the resignation of editor, Andy Coulson, a full investigation was needed to give credibility to the self-regulation system.
Instead, editors are to be asked about their controls to prevent intrusive fishing expeditions and how they ensure staff understand the code of practice and the law. Quite rightly they want to preserve journalistic public interest exemptions.
But without a thorough investigation it will be more difficult to convince legislators and the public that tougher laws are not needed. As Roy Greenslade (once editor of the Mirror) says in a robust post, the PCC is “is simply averting its gaze by holding this so-called ‘review'”.
Contrast this with the views of another former editor, Peter Wilby, (ex-Indy) who seemed to be in denial when he wrote about the NoW in Monday’s Media Guardian under the heading “Would Goodman be in such trouble if he’d found a decent story?” He wrote: “The public doesn’t have a compelling need to know that William has a bad knee or Middleton has taken a trip to the supermarket. But equally, I don’t see why it shouldn’t know.”
And now Sir Christopher Meyer, chairman of the PCC, faces a grilling from MPs at the the Commons’ Media Select Committee who want to look at whether self-regulation of the press is working (see Press Gazette).
In saying that the PCC review would be “forward looking” rather thank raking over who did what and when, he is offering the politicians, some of whom have an interest in curbing the press, ammunition.
We need to know what happened at the NoW and how widespread similar practices are before the public and MPs can be assured that the Press has put its house in order.
Sir Christopher will need all his diplomatic skills if he is to overcome the scepticism of the committee’s Conservative chairman, John Whittingdale.