PCC Debate Sparks Robust Defence and Calls for Proportional Punishment

The embarrassment caused to newspaper editors on the receiving end of a censure from the Press Complaints Commission has the practical effect of reducing repeat offending – that is the claim of senior figures within the PCC, who were speaking in Edinburgh last night.

The event – organised by the Cross Party Group on culture and media at the Scottish Parliament – was attended by PCC chair, Baroness Buscombe; former MP and MSP, John Home Robertson, a PCC Commissioner; Esther Roberton, non-executive director, Scottish Council for Development and Industry and another PCC Commissioner, plus Stephen Abell, director, PCC.

Also there was one of the seven newspaper editors on the PCC, The Scotsman's John McLellan, who praised the PCC a welcome “pain in the neck”. He added: “The press jumps to the PCC tune, not the other way around.”

Conspicuously absent from the event were newspaper editors, who will have heard a vigorous debate about 'proportionality, that any apology a newspaper runs is as prominent as the original, offending article. Abell, however, did say that 80 per cent of apologies appear on the same page or earlier, but Robertson admitted that – during her three years or so as a PCC Commissioner – she could only recollect two or three apologies on a front page.

All the PCC representatives made a robust defence of their organisation, including the concept of self-regulation.

Unresolved was a debate to what extent the PCC is pro-active – seeking out possible grounds for complaint – as opposed to responding only once a complaint is received. While there is some pro-activity – including making it known to possible victims of inaccuracy, etc that they have recourse to the 'fast, free, fair and flexible' service that is the PCC – mostly they have to wait until invited.

That led to Ted Brocklebank MSP and Edinburgh Napier University lecturer, Robert Beveridge, raising issues of 'press standards', which might not lead to complaints but are deemed offensive or in poor taste, nevertheless.

Brocklebank feared, for instance, that 'press standards' might dissuade entering public service, because of the risk of being pilloried. He cited his own recent experience when it was announced he was standing down from the Scottish Parliament at the next election, in May. After eight years services as a MSP, The Scotsman, he felt, seemed to be more interested in a relationship he is said to have had with ITN broadcaster Selina Scott, some 30 years ago. The article was illustrated with a photograph of Brocklebank and Scott. The MSP said he could never envisage himself complaining about anything to the PCC.

Meanwhile, Beveridge said he had stopped taking The Scotsman following a cartoon accompanying the reporting of Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon's recent marriage. He described it as “mysogynist”. McLellan countered that Sturgeon's husband, Peter Murrell, bought the original.

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