It was announced today that the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), the government regulative body for the printed news industry, will close after 21 years.The watchdog, which has faced intense criticism over the last year for its handling of the phone hacking affair at the News of the World, will be replaced in the meantime by a transitional body in the wake of the Leveson inquiry.
Although a decision has now been finalised, the news was somewhat expected. It was over two years ago that the commission came under scrutiny for its role in regulating the British press, where in February 2010 it was described as “toothless” by the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport select committee.
Since then, Prime Minister David Cameron said the PCC was “inadequate” and “absent” in July 2011, as he made a statement to the public regarding phone hacking.
Over the last few months, the PCC’s fate has been clear. It had failed at its attempt to regulate the press. Whether it was News International's illegal practices or the Metropolitan Police’s wrongdoing, no one can deny that the PCC failed to protect the innocent victims who were subject to their personal details being released for the general public to read.
As a journalist, our judgments are supposed to be bound to the PCC’s Code of Practice. So it is slightly ironic that the judgments of the PCC led to its downfall. It turned a blind eye at the ‘Reporting of Crime’ (code.9), it mistook ‘Confidential Sources’ (code.14) and subsequently led to the ‘Intrusion into grief or shock’ (code. 5).
The newspaper industry believes the closure of the self-regulatory body will offer a clean break from the past, an opportunity to fix the press industry’s tarnished reputation. Even Rupert Murdoch, the evil Queen at the centre of the hacking scandal - who recently launched the NOTW successor, The Sun on Sunday - pledged that the paper would be “fearless, outspoken, mischievous, fun…but committed to our high ethical standards”, echoing the industries cries for forgiveness.
So is this the start of something new for our battered news industry? It may well be the start of a grassroots movement into reigniting traditional print media, but will the newspapers learn from their mistakes and changing their wicked ways? I am doubtful. Although the government has announced that a long-term replacement is not expected to be up and running until 2014, it confirmed that the replacement would take on the assets and liabilities of the old PCC.
It remains unclear whether Lord Hunt will have to reapply for his position as Chairman ones the transition process is complete.
The papers may be celebrating at the moment, but we are from the end of seeing a free press industry. Trust is the key issue here. The public, the politicians, the celebrities; they are far from ready to put their trust in the press again, and therefore, a need for government intervention through a new body is needed. With Lord Leveson expected to publish his findings in October, the next year is likely to be an interesting and defining moment for the press industry, and one where the question of ‘freedom of the press’ remains very much unanswered.