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    Monday, 9 November 2009

    Inadvertent harakiri?: PCC report on allegations of hacking and tapping

    The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has published its report into the allegations published in the Guardian in July regarding purported instances of criminal newsgathering methods at the News of the World beyond those that saw Clive Goodman and Glen Mulcaire convicted. The inquiry undertaken by the PCC focused specifically on two issues only:


    - whether there was evidence that the PCC had been misled when conducting its earlier inquiry
    - whether there was any evidence that malpractices were ongoing at the NoW.

    The PCC found no new evidence speaking to either point. Moreover, it asserted that the sources relied on by the Guardian were anonymous and untestable.

    The response of the commentariat has been swift. Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, interviewed on the Today programme on Radio 4 denounced the PCC [on the link this is listed at 0850, although it was in fact aired earlier]. He indicated that while he was an ardent supporter of self-regulation, the PCC was not properly performing this function. He commented:

    "this report is worse than pointless, its actually rather dangerous for the Press... if you have a self-regulation system that is finding nothing out, and has no teeth, and all the work is being done by external people [lawyers, the police and MPs] its dangerous for self-regulation... I believe in self-regulation, but this is not a regulator at work. The PCC does very valuable work in mediation but regulators have the power to do investigations, they have the power to ask people in... [Q: if you cannot aske the PCC to do this job, who should do it?] well, that's why its so dangerous. The regulator behaving this uselessly I suspect that MPs will start to say that this is not regulation I hope the governance review [currently being undertaken by the PCC] takes this onboard. The PCC has to be better funded so that it has some investigatory mechanism, and so that it doesn't write reports as weak and as lightweight as this... the Press is in a very weak position today because its own regulator, its self-regulation, has proved so weak."

    Rusbridger also offered an extended editorial in the newspaper. The report and inquiry have been criticised by lawyers as "contradictory and self-serving", by MPs on the Culture Committee as a "whitewash", and by the Guardian as "complacent" (1). Nick Davies, the author of the earlier Guardian articles, has set out in a detailed critique, the "more important questions" with which the PCC has failed to engage.

    So what will be the upshot for self-regulation? Is it too much to hope that if the King is dying, we may find ourselves with a new, more fit successor?

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