Journalists give evidence to MPs

Journalists tell Select Committee of need to reform PCC and criticise Reynolds

The Press Complaints Commission is in urgent need of reform, Roy Greenslade, a writer on media matters for the Guardian and Professor of Journalism at City University, and Nick Davies, investigative journalist and Flat Earth News author, told the Culture, Media and Sport Select Comittee today.

Mr Greenslade said that although there was little wrong with the PCC Code, the introduction of which had had a beneficial effect on journalistic practices, "it is the application of the code and the administration that is the problem."

Mr Davies was much more critical, telling the Select Committee: "They are not there for the readers … over and over again they are there simply to defend the bad practices of the media. They are not sufficiently independent to do their job properly."

Davies was also heavily critical of outgoing PCC Chairman Sir Christopher Meyer, and said that he hoped the Committee might improve now that he was leaving. In respect of the recent McCanns case, which led to the payment of huge libel damages by newspapers, Davies suggested Meyer should have actively contacted the family and invited them to make a complaint. He also criticised the inclusion of newspaper editors on the Code Committee and the body’s refusal to accept complaints from 3rd parties.

Mr Davies was also critical of Reynolds privilege and UK libel law more generally, calling Reynolds a "bad solution" to "the very bad problem" of libel law, which he also described as "wretched", "a mess" and "a monster". He complained that libel law produces "a constant chilling effect, a constant inhibition", but also that "masses of people are factually wronged and damaged by newspapers" and "the feral end of Fleet Street is out of control" and "over-powerful". The courts, he said, "have a history of being hostile to good journalism and we don’t trust them."

Reynolds, Davies said, not only "encourages a sort of ‘he said, she said’ kind of journalism where you don’t get to the truth", but also amounts to "a licence to run malicious falsehoods". He said that he had been on the end of several smear attempts following the publication of Flat Earth News, including a "grotesque sexual smear about my wife", the publication of which he only prevented after tape recording the reporter admitting the story was untrue: Davies has never had a wife. He supported the introduction of US-style libel laws requiring proof of malice, along with a ‘beefed-up’ PCC.

By contrast, Roy Greenslade was supportive of Reynolds privilege: it "offers a way of getting into the public domain material which needs to be put there." He rejected the suggestion that a statutory version of the defence should be introduced, partly because the concept of public interest was so fluid. He suggested that the law ought to be amended to prevent corporations from being able to sue for libel.

Both witnesses were dismissive of Max Mosley’s suggestion that prior notification should be required in all privacy cases, and were heavily critical of the way in which CFAs have been used, although they accepted that the latter did provide access to justice for those who otherwise could not afford to take action.