The Press Complaints Commission came under a great deal of criticism after it was revealed how poorly it handled the phone hacking scandal that was occurring at the, now defunct, newspaper the News of the World. The Commission was opened over 20 years ago and the incident has meant that it is shutting down as it has been found to be an inadequate way of controlling the press.
The Commission recently announced that it is going to be closing down and a transitionary body is going to be established until the Leveson inquiry is completed and a more permanent solution to press regulation is established.
It is expected that this transitionary body will be in place for around a year as it will take some time for a new authority to be properly established. Many people are expecting that the relevant statutes and legal procedures will not be completed until 2014.
Newspapers in the UK market are hoping that the closure of the commission will help to establish more confidence in UK journalism. Since the revelations about what was occurring at the News of the World, people’s faith in UK media has been significantly damaged. The Press Complaints Commission was a self-regulatory body and has failed spectacularly.
The chairman of the PCC is Lord Hunt and he has commented, “Now that we have made the decision to finally close the commission, we are ready to listen to different opinions on establishing a new body. We want to create something that everyone can get along with and prevent problems like we have seen in in the past few years from ever occurring again.”
The transitionary body is not going to be run by Lord Hunt and instead is going to have three people at its head. Two of these people have previously been involved with politics and the other has been responsible for handling complaints at the Guardian newspaper.
The only paper that was not signed up to self-regulation under the PCC was the Star and Express newspapers which are owned by Richard Desmond. Currently, these papers are in negotiations about becoming involved with the new complaints body.
It is largely expected that they will sign up for a contract that will last several years. The new body is going to have significantly more powers than the PCC and it will have greater sanctioning authority over publishers who break the rules.
The PCC is not being entirely disbanded and parts of it that were deemed to be successful are being integrated into the new system. The structure of the new complaints organisation is not yet known but it is expected to be significantly different from the PCC.
Lord Hunt continued, “Many parts of the PCC did work well and so it doesn’t make any sense to throw all of them out. Most of the time they have been very helpful in resolving issues, we just need to eliminate the parts that are failing.”
There is currently a debate going on about whether the government should introduce statutes in order to increase press control. While this would prevent abuses by the press it could be seen as a significant limitation of press freedom by the government.
There is also an important question about whether the new regulator will be able to force a litigant to accept arbitration as a solution rather than taking the case to court.The results of the Leveson inquiry are going to be published in October and it is expected that Lord Justice Leveson is going to make recommendations about whether he feels statutory regulation is necessary for the body to be successful.