Raymond Snoddy says the game has just begun - it's up to everyone in the
newspaper and magazine industries to try to design the best possible
mixture of carrots and sticks to ensure that self-regulation of the
What is to be done about the Richard Desmond problem? Problem? Problem
singular you ask incredulously.
Let's concentrate on the one Richard Desmond problem that could have
serious implications for free speech and the freedom of the press in
this country - his decision to unilaterally pull out of the Press
Complaints Commission earlier this year.
The fact that anyone can feel free to remove themselves from the PCC is
starting to look like a potential deal-breaker for the survival of
self-regulation, as Lord Leveson and his helpers start to limber up to
take formal evidence later this month.
The rapidly clarifying conundrum goes like this. David Cameron, the
Prime Minister, has declared himself against statutory regulation of the
press. Lord Chief Justice Judge has come out in a similar vein.
So the issue therefore turns into how self-regulation can be made to
work more effectively. But how can it possibly be made to work if it is,
in effect, voluntary self-regulation and the Richard Desmonds of this
world - though thankfully there is no-one else like him - can just take
themselves off in a huff.
If you compel publications to take part by statute you enter a circular
argument from which there is no escape.
Richard Desmond made it clear in an interview with The Guardian this
week that the main reason for staying away from the PCC was a hatred of
Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail. "I'm not sitting there with Dacre,"
said Desmond in a state of renewed anger at remarks the Daily Mail
editor made at a recent Leveson seminar.
Dacre expressed surprise that someone who had "made his money from porn"
had been deemed a fit and proper person to own a newspaper.
Desmond's editorial director Paul Ashford put the reasons for withdrawal
from the PCC slightly more diplomatically at a "speed debating" session
on the future of regulation at City University yesterday.
As far as Northern and Shell - the Desmond parent company - are
concerned they were being regulated by a private gentleman's club that
they didn't feel part of.
One of Desmond's major reasons for pulling out, Ashford continued, was
the fact that the PCC singled out his company for criticism over the
Madeline McCann coverage in the Daily Express and the Daily Star.
It hardly seems surprising that the Express and Star titles should be
criticised for their McCann coverage given that they had to pay £550,000
in libel damages to the McCanns for numerous libels across as many as
At various times in The Guardian interview, the eccentric Desmond said
he continued to refuse to rejoin the PCC - then hinted that he might
reconsider before declaring that he was happy to accept statutory
regulation and fines. There could be no clearer exposition of the
How do you cope with such a problem? The answer has to be through a
series of incentives and penalties. Most will see the advantages for the
good of the newspaper industry of paying their fees to the PCC but for
those who do not there has to be penalty to pay.
Many people are playing around with the idea of "a kite mark", which
signifies properly regulated media and which could be carried
prominently in publications.
The kite mark concept could be strengthened beyond mere PCC membership
by also signing up to signs of best practice - such as reader's editors
and regular corrections and clarifications columns.
Desmond is, however, unlikely to be brought to heel by the lack of a
kite mark and tax credits for PCC members might be more his cup of tea.
David Elstein, a member of the British Screen Advisory Council,
suggested yesterday that differential rates of VAT on newspapers and
newsprint to penalise those who refuse to accept self-regulation might
do the trick.
It is not clear under EU rules whether such a thing would be legally
possible - though it is certainly worth exploring. Another possibility
would be to hit mavericks where it hurts - through their advertising
The Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) brings together the publishing
and advertising industries. It is in effect a self-regulation body to
ensure the credibility of claimed circulations. What if membership was
to be restricted to publications that accepted self-regulation of
100% membership would soon be guaranteed because publishers would not
want to see uncertainly over circulation numbers affecting advertising
But the game has just begun - it's up to everyone in the newspaper and
magazine industries to try to design the best possible mixture of
carrots and sticks to ensure that self-regulation of the press survives.
Lord Grade, who joined the PCC in April, warned yesterday against "an
orgy of regulatory self-flagellation" in the wake of the phone-hacking
Rather like the phoneline scandals that hit broadcasting, once the
matter is exposed there is a major self-correction. No-one, Lord Grade
argued, will dream of getting involved in phone-hacking in future to
face a certain jail sentence.
"The PCC doesn't do it job well. It does it brilliantly. I see the
(internal) papers every week," said the former chairman of the BBC.
At the "speed debating" event, Lara Fielden launched her joint City-
Reuters institute study - Regulating for Trust in Journalism: Standards
Regulation in the age of blended media. Fielden argues that new models
of regulation are needed for the multi-media age with three tiers of
Tier 1 would require comprehensive regulation for all "public" media
that benefits directly or indirectly from public investment. Tier 2
would incentivise voluntary ethical standards as a selling point for
"private" media while Tier 3 would enforce minimum statutory
requirements for on demand TV and video.
It was pointed out, however, that the age of blended media had not yet
arrived with 84% of viewing in the UK still going to linear live TV.