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New press watchdog role to increase accountability

The Press Complaints Commission wants to take a closer look at the way it does its job – and is planning to create a ‘charter commissioner’ to do just that.

The new appointment will add an extra layer of scrutiny at the newspaper watchdog organisation.

Commission chairman Sir Christopher Meyer announced the plan to the Society of Editors at St Bride’s Church in Fleet Street, where he also spoke of the need for solidarity in the newspaper industry to protect self-regulation.

It will launch a new customer service audit panel next year, the membership of which – two lay people and one newspaper or magazine person – will be finalised by the Commission’s appointments commission in the near future.

The charter commissioner would be created in relation to that audit panel, Sir Christopher told the meeting.

He said: “This would add an extra layer of scrutiny of our procedures to that which the courts provide.

“Again, the various rule changes needed to give effect to this have been drafted and are currently with the Press Standards Board of Finance [which funds the PCC].

“We envisage that the charter commissioner will be drawn from among the membership of the Audit Panel and I want a name to be announced in December. The charter commissioner will then be able to begin work early next year.”

He also announced plans for a draft change to the Editor’s Code of Practice regarding headlines of adjudications, which should be in place next year.

He told the editors at the meeting: “There has been concern in some quarters that I am seeking to appropriate to myself the editors’ powers by dictating in detail prominence, location and type face for adjudications. Not so.

“My main concern is that every time a critical adjudication is published it should include a reference to the PCC in its headline.

“Other issues – such as due prominence and placing – will remain rightly under editorial control.

“But let’s be clear. It is in your interest and the PCC’s interest to give greater prominence to adjudications, including, where appropriate, front page fliers and separate news stories.”

He added that after six months in post, he felt “even more optimistic and enthusiastic” than when he began and that, together with industry solidarity, the key to the Commission’s success was to continue to evolve and adapt to change.

  • The Commission will shortly appoint an additional lay member after first advertising the post in the national and regional press.

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