Friday 29 July 2011

Baroness Buscombe to stand down as PCC chair

Baroness Buscombe has confirmed she will be standing down as chair of the Press Complaints Commission when her three-year term of office comes to an end in the New Year.

She announced today her decision not to continue beyond that term to allow time for her successor to be found.

In the interim, Baroness Buscombe says she "will continue her work of promoting industry reform" before handing over to a replacement and that she will contribute to the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics.

She said: "I am very proud of my work at the PCC, which - from the very beginning - has been aimed at instigating the process of reform of the organisation. This included a Governance Review in the course of which I decided to make a number of internal improvements and the introduction of revised procedures in regard to the Editors' Code. This was always intended to be a springboard for further reform.

"I am pleased that the Commission want me to continue in post until my successor has been appointed. Thereafter, I will be able to be a campaigner for change from outside the organisation. I wish to contribute to the Leveson inquiry and participate fully in the overall debate regarding reform, unfettered by my role as Chairman of the PCC."

She added that she leaves with three clear messages:

"First, the public rightly demands stronger powers for dealing with the misconduct of the press. They must get them.

"Second, the public needs the existing work of the PCC to continue and be built upon. I have worked as Chairman to ensure that we give real help (both before and after publication) to members of the public, who otherwise would have no-one to turn to. The staff of the PCC are unsurpassed in terms of the effort and intelligence they bring to their work.

"And third, the importance of a free press has never been greater. It was thanks to investigative journalism that the phone hacking scandal was brought to public attention. Newspapers and magazines must have the proper freedom to represent their readers' interests, and also to expose wrongdoing wherever it may be found.

"In this world of shifting media provision, I am convinced the answer to ethical concerns about the press is not statutory intervention. What is needed is a greater sense of accountability among editors and proprietors. A PCC with increased powers and reach remains the best way of achieving that."

Media Standards Trust reaction:

"The Media Standards Trust believes the decision of Baroness Buscombe not to continue beyond her current term as chair of the Press Complaints Commission is the right one. As we have previously argued, the fundamental problems of the PCC are structural – in terms of its lack of independence from the industry, the opacity of its funding arrangements, and its lack of adequate formal powers.

"But there has clearly been a failure of leadership at a time when the PCC needed firm direction. Not only did the outgoing chair preside over a wholly inadequate investigation into phone-hacking at the News of the World (which the PCC finally withdrew on 6th July 2011), but she criticised The Guardian for its investigation and had to pay damages following a libel action by the lawyer, Mark Lewis.

"It is important that the good work of the Commission’s staff is allowed to continue, and this decision is in no way allowed to hamper their valuable mediation. At the same time, however, Baroness Buscombe’s departure should not deflect the need for, and serious discussion about, the comprehensive reform of the self-regulatory system."

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