Press watchdog updates for the digital age

The arm of the Press Complaints Commission has been extended to include editorial audio-visual material on newspaper and magazine websites.

The move is a response to the growing number of newspapers and magazines that routinely carry material on their online edition that is not available in print.

According to the commission, the wider remit should be seen as covering editorial material on newspaper and magazine titles' websites where it meets two key requirements:

*that the editor of the newspaper or magazine is responsible for it and could reasonably have been expected both to exercise editorial control over it and apply the terms of the Code.

*that it was not pre-edited to conform to the online or offline standards of another media regulatory body.

Sir Christopher Meyer, chairman of the PCC, said the wider remit was needed in light of the “dizzying pace” that the ‘range and quality of digital editorial material offered by online titles have expanded.’

“These developments will only accelerate,” he added.

“What the industry has done in announcing this extension of the PCC’s remit is to underline its confidence in the system of common-sense regulation that we operate, and to demonstrate to the public that editorial information in the digital age – regardless of the format in which it is delivered – will be subject to high professional standards overseen by the Commission.”

Self-regulation was yesterday described as ‘the key’ for how the press should be governed in the future, but it should be made more effective.

Such is the verdict of the National Union of Journalists, which tabled its recommendations in wake of a Parliamentary investigation into privacy and media conduct.

The investigation, which follows the conviction of former News of the World Editor Clive Goodman for phone tapping, heard unethical journalists should face stiff penalties.

Without such a deterrent, “the PCC risks being merely a façade of protection to allow proprietors to continue to make money out of intrusive and sensationalist copy,” the NUJ said.

But the commission is also taking action: it has vowed to probe into the controls newspapers are considering to ensure that intrusive fishing expeditions are stamped out.

Its investigation, which may end with a published review and recommendations to industry, will scrutinize what newspapers are doing to “instil understanding both of the Code of Practice and the law in this area.”

Meanwhile, the NUJ wants journalists to have the right to refuse assignments which they believe breach the PCC code.

“We welcome the investigation,” said general secretary Jeremy Dear, reflecting on the inquiry by officials at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

“It is important the Committee and the industry acts to stop the erosion of public trust in journalism and provides a mechanism for effective self-regulation,” he said.

“Stronger penalties for companies breaching the PCC code, greater freedom of information and a conscience clause for journalists would be a positive step towards achieving that.”


7th March 2007

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