The Co-ordinating Committee for Media Reform (“CCMR”) is a newly-formed umbrella organisation of advocacy groups, academics and individuals campaigning for meaningful reform of the UK media. The CCMR recommends that a News Publishing Commission should be formed to replace the PCC. The commission’s composition and duties are described below. They would incorporate much of the existing good practice of the PCC as well as having additional responsibilities.
Membership of the Commission: All publications (on or off line) would be eligible for membership of, and representation by, the Commission. All publications registered with the Commission (on or off line) would be eligible for VAT exemption. Organisations with a turnover of less than £50,000 (ie not VAT registered) would be eligible for free associate membership of the Commission.
Composition of the Board: The Commission board would be composed of members of the public, ordinary working journalists and editors who must be nominated by their trade body, union, or by relevant civil society organisations. This composition would work along similar lines to that successfully established by the Irish Press Council.
The role of the Commission: The Commission’s role would be to promote press freedom and to oversee and update a code of practice and ensure that it is implemented. The Commission would have a number of other duties that are described below.
Code of Ethical Practice: The Commission would draw up a Code of Practice based on the current PCC editors’ code. The code would include a conscience clause allowing journalists to refuse to do work that is in breach of the code.
News Ombudsman: The Commission board would appoint an independent Ombudsman who can operate as a first port of call for members of the public. The Ombudsman would have the power to demand an instant right of reply, online, immediately below the offending article and in the corrections section of the next edition of the print publication. The right of reply would be of a specified length and contain a Commission logo to make it clear that a complaint had been made. In cases of particularly serious breeches of the code a correction must be published with the same prominence as the original article in print or online.
News Tribunals: Operating on the same basis as employment tribunals, they would adjudicate on cases that are not resolved by the Ombudsman. The Tribunals would be constituted from a panel representing the media and a panel representing the public and would be chaired by a legally qualified person.
Privacy and libel: There should be a presumption that the courts would only be used if other avenues have failed. Tribunal decisions should be taken into account in any further legal action. This should provide a useful quid pro quo for the news media who would stand to gain in freedom of expression in return for offering a fairer say to those who have been damaged. Breaches of privacy law should be subject to larger fines but a defence of ‘public interest’ should be clearly drafted and recognised, to protect press freedom.
Investigations on behalf of groups: The Board would be empowered to investigate and, where appropriate, insist on a right of reply, on behalf of groups.
A whistle blowers code should be established and the commission would be empowered to intercede on behalf of any journalist who feels pressurised into breaking the code.