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
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