Northern and Shell
editorial director Paul Ashford has hinted that the rebel publisher
could return to the Press Complaints Commission if the body was made
more independent and less like an industry "gentlemen's club".
Ashford attended a
seminar on the future of media regulation held at City University
yesterday and spoke in depth about his company's decision to withdraw
from the PCC last year publicly for the first time.
withdrawal of the Express and Star titles, plus Northern and Shell's
magazines, has been seen by some as a greater threat to the future of
press self-regulation than the hacking scandal.
Ashford said that as
the newest Fleet Street publisher: "We entered an industry where there
are lots of personalities and there were bitter rivalries...We were
invited a little grudgingly into this gentlemen's club called the PCC
where we all regulated ourselves and each other...
"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 a line between commercial attacks and
working together on a regulatory body."
Ashford said that the
biggest reason for Northern and Shell's withdrawl from the PCC was the
watchdog's decision to single out Express Newspapers for criticism over
their coverage of the Madeleine McCann disappearance after those titles
made a record libel payout to the family in 2008.
He said: "The Express
group wrote more negative stories about the McCanns than anyone else, we
also wrote more positive stories - we wrote more stores. During the time
when everyone was writing stories there was no discussion of this
through the PCC, no discussion saying let's get together and say what
our stance is on this. After it we were vilified by the PCC, which we
would say is beyond their remit."
Asked by City
University head of journalism George Brock what sort of press regulation
system he would like to see, Ashford said: "I think the PCC system of
self-regulation is probably the best one we are going to get", but added
that it would need an "independent board". And he hinted that were the
PCC to be "differently constituted", Northern and Shell might no longer
object to paying its subcription to the system.
PCC director Stephen
Abell said that the Northern and Shell owner Richard Desmond's issues
were with the industry - and not the PCC.
He said: "These are
people who are fairly competitive and who don't trust each other. If we
can get agreement with the industry about what the industry is and what
the industry stands for, that is the heart of the question that we are
all trying to answer in different ways."
Former PCC chairman
Peta Buscombe voiced a similar response, speaking at the same event. She
said: "You're talking about the industry [not the PCC]." Adding that, at
meetings she had held with Richard Desmond it had been clear to her that
his problem was with the behaviour of other members of the industry,
rather than with the PCC.