Sunday 15 November 2009

PCC chair on super-injunctions: 'insult to public and anathema to democracy'

New Press Complaints Commission chair Baroness Buscombe has attacked the use of "super-injunctions" and described calls for a statutory PCC as "pie in the sky".
Making her first major speech at the Society of Editors in Stansted tonight, Buscombe said: "So to those people who have recently signed a petition on the Number 10 website urging the government to put the PCC on a statutory footing I say: be careful what you wish for.
"Yes, there were many people angered by Jan Moir's controversial article about the death of Stephen Gately; and indeed 25,000 people were sufficiently moved to complain about it to the PCC. But when there is - in the PCC - already a channel to express dismay that a paper has overstepped the line, do people really want a government body telling us what we can read and think? It's a chilling thought - but it also needs pointing out that, curiously, such a proposition is completely at odds with what social networking sites like Twitter are meant to stand for.
"It's great that millions of people are conversing freely on line - but that represents a powerful blast in favour of freedom of expression for everyone, including newspapers. But a statutory press council is, in any case, pie in the sky.
"We need look no further than the other great development of the last few weeks to see why. The most benign thing that can be said about the recent Trafigura injunction fiasco was that it showed a touching naïveté on the part of the highly paid lawyers advising the company. But it was a revealing moment. It has illustrated to the public how the law is being used by the rich and the powerful to try to keep information private - just as many warned would happen during the passage of the Human Rights Act over ten years ago. The idea that a judge who may be no expert in the field can dish out so-called super-injunctions - preventing us from even knowing that he or she has restrained publication - is insulting to the public and anathema to democracy."
Buscombe also told told how Simon Cowell and Fabio Capello have successfully used the PCC to give them some freedom from intrusive paparazzi.
She said: "Both of these men have the resources to use the courts. But they come to the PCC, because we can help them without fee or fuss, and without a battle with the newspapers. Then there was the famous actor who suffered a breakdown this year, and wanted the chance to recuperate in private. Their case was made to editors through the PCC, and nothing has ever been published. No threat to freedom of expression, just the PCC being used to ensure that papers behaved responsibly."

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