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Satchwell attacks MPs over "censorship" plan

Society of Editors boss Bob Satchwell has hit out at calls from MPs for newspapers who breach the press standards code to have publication temporarily suspended.

The idea was one of a series of recommendations in the wide-ranging report on the press published today by the backbench Culture, Media and Sports Committee.

It said that the Press Complaints Commission was “widely viewed as lacking credibility” and that it needed to take a “more active role” in ensuring its code of practice is upheld.

The report said: “The regulator should have the power to fine its members where it believes that the departure from the code of practice is serious enough to warrant a financial penalty, including, in the most serious of cases, suspending the printing of the offending publication for one issue.”

Interviewed on the BBC today, Mr Satchwell said: “The committee say quite right that the media has an important part to play in a democracy it is therefore strange that Members of Parliament should countenance the idea that a publication might be suspended by the PCC.

“That is the kind of censorship that is usually associated with dictators and totalitarian regimes, there is no place for it in a democracy.”

“The committee suggests that the behaviour of some papers and the decisions of the PCC sometimes create an impression that issues are not taken seriously.

“No-one should think that editors and journalists are happy to have to apologise and admit that they have got it wrong.”

Criticism of the idea also came from the campaign group Index on Censorship.

Its editor Jo Glanville said: “Censorship should never be used as a tool for maintaining press standards.”

The group also questioned the committee’s proposal that failure to pre-notify subjects of impending stories should be made an aggravating factor in assessing damages, even with the stipulation that this should not arise where there is a clear public interest.

Ms Glanville said: “Although this is clearly aimed at instances of tabloids invading privacy of individuals, the uncertainty of what qualifies as public interest means that this will have a chilling effect on journalism and on NGOs investigating corruption and human rights abuse.”

However there was a broad welcome for the report from the Media Standards Trust, which has previously been strongly critical of the PCC.

Director Martin Moore said: “This committee’s report contains many important recommendations for the Press Complaints Commission. In particular, it establishes that acting as a complaints mediator is insufficient for safeguarding public trust.

“As opinion research commissioned by the Media Standards Trust in January 2010 reveals, the public expects a press self-regulator to be proactive in monitoring breaches of the code and have responsibility for reporting on press standards.

“This important work must be taken forward by the PCC’s governance review which must work across the industry, on behalf of the public, to cajole and command the newspaper industry to change.”

Comments

Emma Grogan (24/02/2010 14:12:14)
Well said Bob – how dare MPs even think of such a thing. Bet they’d like EVERY edition of the Daily Telegraph suspended.