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How Richard Desmond could learn to love press regulation

HOMEPAGE NEWS REPORTS INDEX LEVESON IMAGES NOV 23rd 2011 NEWS NOVEMBER 2011
Original Source: GUARDIAN: SUNDAY 06 NOVEMBER 2011
Peter Preston
The Observer, Sunday 6 November 2011
 

 Express boss does not like the Press Complaints Commission 'private club' might he prefer statutory regulation?  

Richard Desmond has made it clear he does not want to be regulated by rivals on the PCC. Photograph: Tom Stoddart/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

  You may start at the top, as so many press debates do these days, talking reform, purer self-regulation and public support. Or you may start at the bottom, as the editor-in-chief of Associated Newspapers labels the proprietor of Express Newspapers a "businessman who made his money from porn" while the man who will probably never be Lord Desmond of Golders Green describes Paul Dacre as "that miserable fat git". But, like the secretary of state for the media, you'd probably be best starting slap bang in the middle of this fine mess.

 

It isn't the biggest issue in town. It's certainly not the most elevated or principled one. But with or without Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry, no proper system of press regulation can carry any sort of authority if four national newspapers sit balefully outside. The Press Complaints Commission, or any successor body, needs Richard Desmond. How on earth can he be propelled back on board?

 

The causes of Desmond discontent have grown clearer these past few days. Before, it's always seemed cash that got in the way: the 170,000 or so annual Express and Star fee to keep the PCC going. But you can't heal wounds with a stack of fivers.

 

"I'm not sitting there with Dacre," Desmond told the Guardian last week. His editorial director, Paul Ashford, amplified that at a City University and Reuters Institute seminar. "As far as we were concerned, we were being regulated by what appeared to us to be a private club it was difficult to draw the line between commercial attacks and working together on a regulatory body."

 

Now, this is all a bit off beam, as Peter Hill, a longtime commission member and Express editor might have explained. OK, the PCC dumped heavily on the Express's Madeleine McCann coverage: but so did almost everyone else, including the McCanns. But Paul Dacre is not the PCC. Indeed, he's not on it any longer. What Desmond and Ashford are really complaining about is an industry that doesn't like them although, unlike Millwall supporters, they do seem to care.

 

In theory, then, there's a good chance that a reformed commission will be able to steer Desmond back into line. Fresh start; fresh expletives deleted by a more distant Dacre. Dickie's tender; don't poke the wounds. Step back. Let the independent commissioners do their job.

 

But if that doesn't work, then there is another way. "I'm not worried about statutory regulation," Desmond told the Guardian. "I'm regulated by Ofcom for Channel 5 on TV. I'm happy with that."

 

In short, he's almost offering a choice: give me a PCC I'm happier with, or let me go the Ofcom route. Self-regulation or statutory regulation. The idea began as a sanction. Let Ofcom administer the code of conduct for papers who play fast and loose. Now it appears more a benign option and one that would certainly set the press mopping brows. No more invective on either side. Careless talk costs commission lives

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