Wednesday 24 February 2010

Quotes of the Day: Culture, Media and Sport Committee on press standards, libel and privacy

Here are some of the major conclusions and recommendations from today's Culture, Media and Sport select committee's report on press standards, privacy and libel which you can read, in full, here.
  • We recommend that the PCC should amend the Code to include a requirement that journalists should normally notify the subject of their articles prior to publication, subject to a "public interest" test, and should provide guidance for journalists and editors on pre-notifying in the Editors' Codebook.
  •  There is still a great deal of good, responsible journalism in the British press. However, the picture painted for us of corners being cut and of fewer journalists struggling to do more work is cause for concern. If the press is to command the trust and respect of the public, the public needs to know that the press is committed to high standards even in difficult times.
  • We found the News of the World editor's attempts to justify the Max Mosley story on 'public interest' grounds wholly unpersuasive, although we have no doubt the public was interested in it.
  • Of course, it is impossible to say for certain that untrue articles were written in the McCann case as a result of pressure from editors and news desks. It is, however, clear that the press acted as a pack, ceaselessly hunting out fresh angles where new information was scarce.
  • We have received no evidence in this inquiry that the judgments of Mr Justice Eady in the area of privacy have departed from following the principles set out by the House of Lords and the European Court of Human Rights.
  • The free and fair reporting of proceedings in Parliament is a cornerstone of a democracy. In the UK, publication of fair extracts of reports of proceedings in Parliament made without malice are protected by the Parliamentary Papers Act 1840. They cannot be fettered by a court order.
  • We look forward, clearly, to the outcome of the important Simon Singh case. Even from the limited evidence we have received, we believe that the fears of the medical and science community are well-founded, particularly in the internet age and with the growth of 'libel tourism'. We urge the Government, therefore, to take account of these concerns in a review of the country's libel laws, in particular the issue of fair comment in academic peer-reviewed publications.
  • Whatever the constitutional situation, or diplomatic niceties, we believe that it is more than an embarrassment to our system that legislators in the US should feel the need to take retaliatory steps to protect freedom of speech from what they view as unreasonable attack by judgments in UK courts.
  •  All the evidence we have heard leads us to conclude that costs in CFA cases are too high. We also believe that CFA cases are rarely lost, thereby undermining the reasons for the introduction of the present scheme. However it is vital to the maintenance of press standards that access to justice for those who have been defamed is preserved.
  • During our inquiry, regarding the reporting of personal tragedies, we also asked how the press - local newspapers, in particular - moderated their websites, when asking readers to comment on stories. Certain comments of which we have been made aware have been sick and obscene. The PCC told us, though, that it did not consider this a major issue.
  • We remain of the view that self-regulation of the press is greatly preferable to statutory regulation, and should continue. However for confidence to be maintained, the industry regulator must actually effectively regulate, not just mediate. The powers of the PCC must be enhanced, as it is toothless compared to other regulators.
  • In order to command public confidence that its rulings are taken seriously by the press, we believe that, in cases where a serious breach of the Code has occurred, the PCC should have the ability to impose a financial penalty.
  • The freedom of the press is vital to a healthy democracy; however, with such freedom come responsibilities. The PCC has the burden of responsibility of ensuring the public has confidence in the press and its regulation and it still has some way to go on this.

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