Poll shows strong public support for reform of the Press Complaints Commission

A series of proposals to reform the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) have won the backing of the public in a new Ipsos-MORI poll (8-17 January, 980 individuals) commissioned by the Media Standards Trust:

  • By a 61% margin the public believe the chief purpose of this body should be to monitor compliance with the code of practice and conduct investigations where there is public concern rather than its current chief purpose of mediating on complaints between newspapers and complainants (73% – 12%)
  • By a 44% margin the public back an independent regulatory body over the current industry-run arrangements (52% – 8%)
  • By a 43% margin the public back the body having an obligation to investigate where there is evidence of inaccuracy in newspapers over the current policy of waiting for a complaint from someone directly referred to in an article (48% – 5%)

Martin Moore, director of the Media Standards Trust, said of the poll:

This research shows there is a significant gap between public expectations of press self-regulation and what the current system can, and does, provide. It is critical that the PCC’s current governance review works out how best to meet this challenge.

One other finding caught my eye: 85% of people believe that newspaper should be liable to financial fines in the cases of severe breaches of the regulatory code.

This echoes the previous tendency of juries in libel cases to award very large sums to people who successfully sued newspapers, not necessarily because they believed the people deserved those sums but rather as a form of rough justice – the bigger the libel payments, the greater the penalty to the newspaper. Whilst libel practices have been reformed to curb that behaviour, this poll shows how many people still believe that financial penalties should be payable in cases of particularly bad media behaviour.

A wise industry would react to that public anger instead of ignoring it. A very wise industry (and I’ve no doubt every journalist reading this falls into that class…) would also appreciate that persuading the public to pay for news becomes easier the more the public believes media outlets are respectable organisations who get stories right. One way to do that would be to back these five proposals.

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