Complaints about articles in the Scottish Daily Express and the Daily Star of Scotland – plus their sister, Sunday titles – are no longer to be handled by the Press Complaints Commission.
It follows a second instance in three years of non-payment by the newspapers' publishers, Northern & Shell, to the body that funds the PCC, the Press Standards Board of Finance. First time around, the publishers made good, to the tune of around £200,000, after not paying between January 1 three years ago and February 15 the following year.
This is the first eviction of a newspaper group from the PCC during its 20-year history. Henceforth, readers with complaints about articles in Northern & Shell publications, including OK! magazine, will be advised to contact the relevant department of the publishers.
A statement issued by PressBoF reads: “PressBoF’s move follows a decision by the publisher – the second occasion on which this has happened since 2008 – that it no longer wishes to pay the voluntary industry levy to support the work of the PCC. Every effort was made by the PressBoF Board to reverse that decision before Northern & Shell’s membership of the system lapsed on December 31 2010.
“This decision means that the Northern & Shell titles will now automatically cease to be covered by the work of the PCC, which will as a result of the publisher’s decision no longer deal with complaints from members of the public about them, or of the Editors’ Code Committee.”
It is understood that the annual fee Northern & Shell would have had to pay was circa £175,000.
Says a statement issued by the PCC: “To preserve its independence, the PCC does not involve itself directly in obtaining funding from publishers. However, a refusal to support the self-regulatory system financially means that a newspaper publisher effectively withdraws from the PCC's formal jurisdiction, which the PCC considers regrettable.”
The statement continues: “The Commission has accepted this recommendation and, therefore, must now regard Northern & Shell as being outside its jurisdiction. As a result, the PCC will be unable to deal formally with new complaints about Northern & Shell titles until the funding dispute is resolved. The Commission will continue to assist individuals to frame their complaints about published articles and will direct individuals to the relevant departments of the titles within the Northern & Shell group. The PCC will endeavour to resolve amicably its current workload of investigated complaints where possible.”
Speaking to allmediascotland.com, Jim Raeburn – secretary and treasurer of PressBoF and also director of the Scottish Newspaper Society – said he didn't expect any other newspaper groups to follow suit. “Self-regulation is regarded as in the best interests of the newspaper industry,” he said.
Adds John McLellan, editor-in-chief at Scotsman Publications and also a PCC commissioner and chair of the editors' committee at the Scottish Newspaper Society: “It is extremely frustrating for everyone who works so hard to make sure self-regulation is effective for one maverick publisher to attempt to drive a coach and horses through what is a very effective system.
“Why a proprietor who takes full advantage of his custodianship of Express Newspapers to air his views and theories should in any way put his freedom to do so at risk is beyond me.”
In a statement issued by the Society of Editors, executive director, Bob Satchwell, is quoted, as saying: “The vast majority of editors in newspapers and magazines support the Editors’ Code and the PCC that ensures compliance. They recognise the value of the system to their readers and therefore to journalism and the industry itself. Knowing that newspapers and magazines uphold a strict code of practice has improved confidence in the press which is vital when so many vested interests seek to undermine its work in informing the public.”
The statement also includes a quote from Scotsman Publications' managing director, Michael Johnston, who, in his capacity as president of the Scottish Newspaper Society, is quoted as saying: “The raison d’être of the PCC is a deep-seated belief in the importance of freedom of the press and thus in self-regulation. It is illogical for any publisher to withdraw from the system and thereby deny readers of his publications the right to an independent means of resolving complaints.”
A comment from Northern & Shell is still being sought.