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Give public greater say over editors' code – report

Members of the public should be given a greater say in drawing up the editor’s code of practice governing the journalistic profession, according to an independent report published today.

A review of the governance of the Press Complaints Commission published today has held back from recommending major changes in the system of self-regulation.

But it questions whether the Editor’s Code of Practice Committee which oversees the code and reviews it annually has enough public input.

The Committee is currently made up of 13 current and former newspaper and magazine editors, including Damian Bates of the Evening Express, Aberdeen, Ian Murray of the Southern Daily Echo, Mike Sassi of Staffordshire Sentinel News and Media and Hannah Walker of the South London Press.

The report states: “There is considerable criticism of the Editors’ Code of Practice Committee for the fact that it does not include lay representation.

“The Governance Review sees benefit in the fact that editors are responsible for the wording of their own Code: the industry takes ownership of the rules by which it should abide and then allows an independent organisation to enforce them.

“It is essential, however, to show there is an effective lay contribution to the workings of the Code.”

The report recommends that the Commission, which has a 10-7 majority of lay members to editors, should recommend changes to the code each year and that the Code Committee should be obliged to give reasons if these are not implemented.

On the central issue of self-governance, however, the review stands by the existing system despite calls from some for fundamental reform.

The report states: “The Governance Review believes that the basic philosophy of self-regulation – that it is free from state control, has industry involvement, but contains a strong lay influence – is sound.”

Review chairman Vivien Hepworth said: “This review is the first such in the history of the PCC and has represented an invaluable opportunity to test the structures and processes that have evolved since the organisation’s establishment in 1991.

“We hope that the recommendations of the Review will plot the route for significant reform and improvement. The proposals we have put forward will give the PCC more clarity, independence and effectiveness and will ensure that it is transparent and accountable. It is now for the PCC and the industry to respond to, and implement, our findings.”

PCC chairman Baroness Buscombe said: “Last year I initiated an independent governance review of the PCC to reflect on the way the organisation works and to make sure that we take account of both good practice elsewhere and wider public expectations.

“I am very grateful for the thorough, innovative and rigorous review that Vivien Hepworth and her team have undertaken. While the Commission needs to reflect carefully on the Panel’s recommendations, I want to say right away that we are as an organisation committed to moving the PCC forward. This report now provides us with the impetus to do so.”

The full report can be read here