Lord Justice Leveson this morning kicked off his inquiry into press standards with a first day of hearings at the Royal Courts of Justice.
This has inevitably brought with it another round of scrutiny of what Leveson and his panel can and should consider.
In this morning’s Times, the new Chair of the current industry regulator the Press Complaints Commission sets out his vision for how self-regulation can be ‘shaken up’.
He makes clear that: “I did not apply to be chair of the PCC because I believe it can be saved in its current form. My job description refers to the “renewal and regeneration” of press regulation and that is the task I relish.”
To this end he announces in the column that he is “now setting up, under the aegis of the PCC, a small, high-level team that will run a rapid but comprehensive consultation exercise about a sustainable future for independent self-regulation.”
Some of the proposals under consideration appear to be greater independence from newspaper proprietors and editors, and how best to bring major publishers Northern and Shell (which owns the Daily Star and Express newspapers) back under their remit. Both are important points that need to be considered.
Particularly interesting from Full Fact’s perspective is Lord Hunt’s observation that:
“If a newspaper splashes an inaccurate claim on its front page, the PCC does have power to ensure that a correction or apology receives “due prominence”. Many people will probably assume and argue that should mean equal prominence, in other words that the correction appears on the same page as the original article.”
Of course what he actually meant was when a newspaper splashes an inaccurate claim on its front page.
Lord Hunt must have been thinking of two of the first adjudications on which he sat, both Full Fact complaints about Daily Mail front page splashes. In both cases the Commission decided that a front-page correction was unnecessary.
Full Fact has never argued for equal prominence instead of due prominence. We have argued before that the factors that contribute to a claim’s prominence cannot be boiled down to size and location.
Nonetheless we disagreed with the decision not to require front page corrections in these cases. The Commission criticised the Mail’s “sloppy journalism” but only required them to make the same correction they would to a relatively minor and blameless mistake, in their new page 2 corrections column.
The issue is not that due prominence should mean equal prominence. It is that due prominence should mean due prominence. On that occasion, the PCC got it wrong.
They not only missed the chance to set the record straight for readers who had only seen the erroneous front-page splashes, but also missed the chance to tackle newsroom cultures that allow such errors to be printed so prominently and so regularly.
We concluded that “the PCC urgently needs to rethink its understanding of the harm of inaccuracy.”
Surprisingly, although Lord Hunt’s article refers to criticism of the Commission’s recent stance, he makes no argument that it is right.
Instead he opines that the PCC is not “the independent regulator we need” and says that its phoenix-like successor “should be lean and it should, when necessary, be mean.” Perhaps the Lord is listening.