The transcripts of the official inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. More…

  • PROFESSOR ROY GREENSLADE (affirmed).

  • Thank you, Professor Greenslade. Your statement, please. It's not dated, but it starts at page 00276 of our bundle.

  • Do you have your statement?

  • You haven't got your statement either?

  • It's in here, but not here.

  • I think out of fairness to you --

  • We'll get you a copy. Somebody will bring it to you.

  • I'd just like to ask you to attest to the truth of this statement, please.

  • About yourself, you're a Professor of Journalism at City University London. As we know, you write a daily blog for the Guardian and a weekly media column for the London Evening Standard. You've been a journalist for many years and in the past you've been assistant editor of the Sun, you worked on the Sunday Times, you were editor of the Daily Mirror for quite a short period, it seems, in 1990, but you've been working freelance, really, for 20 years. Is that in a nutshell the position?

  • That's true. I ought to make it clear that of course I'm here as a freelance journalist, in a sense. I'm not representing the Guardian. I haven't been party to any discussions that have taken place at the Guardian, so I am a lone voice in that sense.

  • Professor Greenslade, thank you very much, and thank you very much for the obvious interest you've taken in the work of the Inquiry from its outset. I'm not sure that I should be happy that you have encouraged everybody to reserve their ammunition until they see the report.

  • Gosh, I'm well read. Well, I think they should do it then, rather than before, anyway.

  • Yes, I was just proving that you are read.

  • Thank you. The first rubric of your statement, "Flaws within the PCC". First of all, to be clear, are the flaws that you identify here flaws which you've only, as it were, conceived of in and since July 2011 or are they flaws which you had in mind consistently over the last 20 years?

  • No, the corpus of my work as a media commentator would show that I've illustrated that it was flawed many times over before that. However, I ought to say in fairness that it changed and it improved, sometimes I guess because of my goading, by the goading of other people, but I had many debates with the different chairmen and directors of the PCC over the years in which I would point out what was wrong. The most obvious thing that was wrong was that I was consistently saying this is not a regulator, and suddenly, from July 2011 onwards, everybody now seems to agree with what I've been saying for 20 years.

  • But you do agree that nobody had said it before?

  • No. No one had -- I mean if you go back through the speeches, and I looked back to every chairman, they talk about self-regulation and the word regulation comes up in what directors say, too, and so I had assumed that they thought and conceived of it as being regulation. To hear Lord Hunt say, as he did in an interview with me when he was first appointed, "We of course are not a regulator", was a little eye opener to me. Suddenly we are in a state of denial, I realised.

  • May we focus on what you believe to be the systemic flaws? We've received a block of evidence about that already, but could you give us the headline points?

  • Firstly, I think in the setting up of the Press Complaints Commission there was a feeling that the Press Council had largely failed, which preceded it, mainly because the Press Council had fallen into disrepute. It had fallen into disrepute not in my view because it had done just a poor job -- I've been critical of that too -- but mainly because newspapers, publishers and editors treated it with utter contempt. Whenever the Press Council issued an adjudication which newspapers didn't like, they would publish the adjudication, which they were bound to do, but in large headlines underneath, they would say why they thought that adjudication was wrong.

    That, of course, was a nonsense, and they openly attacked the chairman at the time, Louis Blom-Cooper, so it was quite clear to me that that had fallen into disrepute. There was a crisis in the 1980s, a sort of Wild West show in terms of tabloid newspaper behaviour, and that's what created that crisis, a crisis which you can see has happened over phone hacking, although this is obviously on a far worse basis, but it was clear to me that that was the first major failure of the PCC, what is -- in a sense it was set up in order to overcome the problems of the Press Council, had to say, "We want to be inclusive, we want to make sure that we aren't critical", but at the same time the PCC, in having been set up in that way, was bound to say one of the reasons that the Press Council was treated so badly was that it adjudicated so often against newspapers.

    So there's the first systemic problem. They were obviously going to ensure that adjudications for breaches of a code were kept to a minimum.

    I think the other problem was, of course, that it was really still in the hands of the employers, the owners, and that meant that whoever was contracted to be chairman, director, the rest of the staff were very aware of who their employers were.

    I am not saying, and don't wish my statement to be seen in this light, that -- I'm not impugning the directors or the chairmen or the secretariat who had to do that work, but I am saying that it must weigh heavily in people's minds as to what happened before and who their employers were at the time, making it difficult to believe all along that they were being entirely independent.

  • A couple of points there, Professor Greenslade. You refer to a Wild West show in the 1980s in relation to the behaviour of the tabloid press in your perception. You've been observing the behaviour of the press as a whole over 48 years, that's the timescale you identify in your statement. To the extent it's possible to generalise, how has the behaviour of the press improved/deteriorated say since 1980? Has it been a constant tale of improvement since that Wild West show or has it stayed constant? How would you define it?

  • It's really difficult. It's a fantastically difficult question to answer. There are periods, periodic moments, when the press misbehaves on a grand scale. It is fair to say that in the immediate succession to the Calcutt Committee's findings and report that the press cleaned up for a while. However, there was a persistent pursuit of the Royal Family, mainly Princess Diana, which led to periods of bad behaviour, but there is no doubt that the press can go for a couple of years at a time and not do anything too outrageous, and then suddenly there can be a feeding frenzy. The McCanns is a terrific example of that.

    It would also be fair to say that the PCC under pressure, I think, from public opinion, political opinion, opinion from within the media sometimes and various critics, did attempt on lots of occasions to improve itself. Obviously it made great changes to the code after Princess Diana's death. It has taken on board difficulties facing financial journalism in relation to editors following the City Slickers affair, so it has -- and of course one of the interesting things about the code and the development of the code is that you are constantly facing new problems you couldn't think of in advance. No one thought an editor would buy shares, for instance, so that's why it didn't say specifically in the code, "Don't buy shares if you're an editor", so you have to think of these things after the event. And when you do, that obviously means that injunction will be understood by people and it won't happen. The same on bugging and so on.

  • One of the key failings you've identified in relation to the PCC is that it keeps adjudications to a minimum. The PCC might say -- and we've heard this from Lord Hunt a couple of days ago -- that that's one of its strengths, that it has been successful in acting as a conciliator between complainants and the press, and after all, when asked to fill in the consumer satisfaction survey after the event, many complainants are very satisfied with what's been achieved.

  • That's perfectly true, but I think people who complain, the average number of people who complain, who are not, say, in public life, are so absolutely astonished that they get anything positive from a complaint to the PCC that they respond by saying, well, you know, it was resolved to my satisfaction, so I think that's why that happens.

    You wouldn't get many politicians taking that view or people in public life, as you've heard in earlier testimony over the months. They're not so satisfied with the service.

    It has to be said, by the way, that the secretariat over the years built up a very sophisticated way of dealing with complainants. There is no doubt that they were -- that many complainants thought that they'd received excellent service from the secretariat and I also think that conciliation and arbitration has a very large part to play in how we should deal with many complaints.

    My problem was that obvious breaches of the code, blatant breaches of the code, could still be sorted out by conciliation rather than adjudication. It meant, for instance, that you couldn't build up a pattern in which you said -- I pluck the Daily Mail from the back of my mind, not the forefront, but let me use the Daily Mail as an example. When it breaches the code over a number of periods and it sorts those out by conciliation, then we are not getting a picture of a paper which has created a series of breaches. I'm not saying the Mail is the worst of newspapers in that sense.

    I'm using that as an example to show that without adjudications you are not punishing, even -- and many people don't think it's punishment anyway to have an adjudication, we can move on to that -- but the point is you are not showing that a newspaper over a period of time has been responsible for breaching the code.

  • The point you make in your statement but haven't yet developed orally, at the fourth page, page 00279, you point out correctly that there are more complaints from the public about regional and local newspapers than the nationals.

  • What conclusions, if any, may we draw from that? The Inquiry has had little or no evidence of systemic or generic problems within the regional press. Is it your view that although numerically greater, the complaints from the regional press are just examples of the isolated factual, accuracy errors which, human nature being as it is, one would naturally see, one might be afraid to say, in any event?

  • Yes. Look, the regional press in my view do their best to try and tell the truth. They're less biased, they're less politically involved. They are not interfering, usually, in the private lives of celebrities. But they naturally intrude into people's privacy. They can't help it. It's part of the job, in a sense. And I think also they have to deal with matters of accuracy.

    There are many more regional papers than there are national papers, so naturally that would lead to breaches, but these are largely almost totally really minor breaches. I think one of the things I say later is about appointing readers' editors in newspapers. I think one of the things regional papers have done is carried in their newspapers and on their websites: "If you think there's something wrong in this newspaper, go to the Press Complaints Commission".

    I would rather see dialogues opening up between readers and editors through a readers' editor which meant that all these relatively minor but sincerely held complaints by people were dealt with without the recourse of a regulator or non-regulator, in which they could simply have that dealt with immediately by the newspaper.

    If you complain to a regional newspaper editor, most of the time the editor, in my experience, will take that on board, but what they've tended to do with the creation of the Press Complaints Commission is push those on, is encourage people to go right to, as it were, the last resort rather than going to the first resort.

  • Does that run slightly into your concern that the Press Complaints Commission is keen to conciliate and therefore remove, as it were, exposure of issues, or is that merely a reflection of the order of complaint, if you see what I mean?

  • I'm not entirely grasping your point, but I think it is quite clear that the Press Complaints Commission enjoy dealing in a sense with the regional press. First of all, these are easily dealt with. It also makes their figures look terribly good, to be absolutely honest. They build up this huge file of, "Oh, we've got all these complaints, we've dealt with them all very well", but the truth is this is -- we're not, with respect, sir, holding this Inquiry because Mrs Smith of Wigan complained that somebody knocked on the door when her husband died. That whole business is a really interesting subject and I think you'll probably be addressed on it some time, but it is not the major reason for this Inquiry, and therefore not a major reason -- well, I'm telling you what the Inquiry is for -- not a major reason for worry about the regulator.

  • That's actually the point that I was seeking to make, that there is a level of complaint which can and should be dealt with at the very, very bottom of the pyramid, straight to the newspaper, but your concern is that lots of complaints which are above the very, very base, which should just be resolved quickly, are being massaged away out of the system, so that we don't get a picture of what actually has been going on through the PCC, and that's a national problem, not a regional problem?

  • It is. That's exactly the point.

  • Thank you. And then the point about group complaints is at page 6, 00281. You make the point fairly that the PCC has improved its approach, really, to accepting these complaints over the years, but what in your view is the importance, in terms of setting standards and acting as a regulator, of a regulator properly so-called dealing with group complaints?

  • I think that they were forced in the end to deal with group complaints because people did feel that there had been ill treatment, particularly of people seeking asylum, particularly of immigrants generally, and they did come forward with guidance. And I understand that third-party complaints are a real problem. Obviously if the person who's been upset doesn't wish to complain, then you can do nothing about it.

    I remember a Labour MP who had quite clearly suffered from intrusion into her privacy, a picture on a beach, and I tried to encourage her to complain, but she said "No, this will only attract yet more hostility from the press, and therefore I won't complain". I couldn't have a third-party complaint launched. In those circumstances I could understand why you couldn't go forward with that complaint.

    Another very high-profile figure, a female, was outed as being gay and I encouraged her to complain, but she also felt for similar reasons that she wouldn't complain.

    You can't have third-party complaints, in my view, in those circumstances, although I think those people might have taken different decisions.

    When it comes to groups of people, when we start saying that East European asylum seekers are eating swans from the Thames, a Sun story of the past, then I think it's right that they should accept third-party complaints in those circumstances.

  • On your first example, does that itself reveal a justifiable reaction from the individual or is it evidence of the culture of the press? The reaction being: I'm not going to go there because I will suffer. They will come back at me again and again, and therefore in the long run I'd better just lie down and allow my privacy to be invaded.

  • Exactly that. I think that you've had evidence, I think Hugh Grant was good on this, on the fact that if you stick your head above the parapet and complain, you will only attract yet more hostility. You are not protected. The opposite is the case. So a lot of people have taken on the nose, as it were, bad behaviour by the press on the understanding that the behaviour would be worse still if they dared to complain.

  • Of course, one wants to encourage and applaud free speech and the right of freedom of expression so that the newspapers can do whatever they want in that regard, but is there some way of coping with that, or not?

  • Well, I think the way of coping with that quite clearly is if people had faith in the ability of a regulator to prevent further intrusion and exposure by a newspaper. In other words, if they -- in both those cases that I quoted, they said, "No, the PCC will not satisfy us because they can't protect us after we've made a complaint", and that's perfectly true. There was nothing that could be done.

    I think it would be the role of a regulator to say to newspapers, "This person's complained, we've upheld their complaint in this situation; we're watching you. We're keeping our eye on you." I think that would be a very fair thing for a new regulator to do.

  • The code of practice, Professor Greenslade, bottom of page 00281. Can I just ask you to develop your point about the inclusion of a conscience clause? You stand in a similar position to the NUJ. Are you also suggesting that there be a tailor-made code for journalists, which is slightly different from the Editors' Code?

  • I'm not talking about a separate code. I'm thinking, really, that we have an Editors' Code. It's not a bad code. I was surprised that Dr Moore in evidence the other day thought that it was contradictory in places. Maybe it is. I can't see that. But I think we have the basis of a decent code. But I think this is an opportunity to take another look at that but to make it into a journalists' code, not just one drawn up by editors, and I think that it seems to me that as part of that code it would be a terribly good idea to have a conscience clause for the reasons outlined by Ms Stanistreet, which is that it -- okay, we're not -- even if you didn't have the conscience clause, presumably if it's in your contract of employment, you can say, "Look, don't do that", but I think the addition of a conscience clause would trigger a certain kind of mechanism within the office and perhaps it would be reported to the regulator too that this conscience clause had be triggered, had been invoked, and therefore that it was a standback situation and it was probably requiring of a little investigation by the regulator as to whether that was a valid reason for refusing to do the assignment.

  • Thank you. Now, the --

  • I mean, I do think we should -- you know, the code has been improved over time. I don't think we should throw out that code completely, but I think it provides a decent basis for a code.

  • Do you think it's better for being expressed in the negative as opposed to the positive? Just a question.

  • I know. We mustn't forget that the Ten Commandants are full of "thou shalt not do".

  • I think there are positives too.

  • But there are positives, praise the Lord, and I don't think you can say praise the journalists in the code. We who teach journalism are teaching people what they should be doing, but I think when they get to work, it is only fair that they should know also what they shouldn't be doing and that this should be codified, and I can't imagine a code, except for that preamble quoted several times over in evidence by Lord Hunt in which he talks about attaining high standards, is a good enough praise the Lord at the beginning.

  • We'll look at the constitution of the committee under your proposal in a moment, but may we look at the point about the public interest and defining it in the code, it's the bottom of page 00282.

  • You feel that much of the definition within the code of practice is acceptable, but there are difficulties with the third element because of its subjectivity: preventing the public from being misled by an action or statement of a individual or organisation. Is that a fair summary of where you're coming from?

  • It is. I mean, it is fair to say that one of the reasons for much of tabloid intrusion is that particular part of the public interest clause in which you say, as an editor: this footballer is married or engaged and we have evidence, supposed evidence, to show that this footballer is in fact philandering. This footballer is a public figure. This footballer has on perhaps two occasions said how much he loves his wife and so on and so that's reason enough to expose that person under that particular clause. You know, I have a problem with that, but I think it goes to the heart of the problem that I outlined in that first seminar -- how long ago was that? -- in which I said that we have two presses in this country, and the two presses mean that we have a press which is dedicated to acting in the public interest and a press which is dedicated to publishing material interesting to the public.

    I don't think that every bit of material in a newspaper could or should be in the public interest. We wish to engage the public in all sorts of ways and entertainment is a part of the package. But I think in interesting the public, much of that or a great deal of that material is intrusive and it's this clause which enables that to be published.

  • Various suggestions have been put to the Inquiry in evidence we'll be receiving in the next two or three days about how that provision of the code in particular can be tightened up. Is that what you would be arguing for or are you in resigned fashion accepting the status quo?

  • I've tried myself to imagine how I could tighten it up at various stages. It is a real problem. In the end it is about intention of editors and about the culture of newspapers, and it is really difficult to see how in -- we do wish, if a politician, if a public figure is clearly misleading the public in some way, we must be able to expose that person, so we do need something which allows that to happen.

    It is in the end a really very difficult subject, this one.

  • I'm not sure I should be reassured by that answer.

  • No, you'd best behave, sir. They will be at you.

  • No, I wasn't thinking about my personal conduct, but about how to address the issue.

  • Ah, right, I'm not helping you enough, you mean? Well --

  • Maybe you can't. I'm not being critical of you.

  • No. I mean, I think that -- I think that there could be an extra injunction added to that, which made it clear that this part of the public interest defence needed to be -- there needed to be an overriding reason for it. In other words, that it needed to be a substantial example of the public being misled.

  • That might work but does it deal with the problem of your two presses? If one goes back to last September and the great criticism: how could I possibly conduct this Inquiry without tabloid advice, because I could never understand the mentality of a tabloid editor unless I had such advice, I look to you because you've done both of them, you've been involved in both types of newspapers, and therefore I ask you: do you think you were two different people as you were running these papers? Or do you think you could carry the judgments that were proper in your head, you might apply them slightly differently, but consistently, whether you were working in a tabloid newspaper or a broadsheet or on any other type of paper?

  • No, I mean there is an element about me, as you'll realise, of poacher turned gamekeeper, and that's a constant criticism of me and I can't avoid that, but the truth is that I think I regret one or two of the things I did when I was a tabloid editor that were, I think, overly intrusive, and on reflection I shouldn't have done them, but it does strike me that what we're trying to do here is to raise standards and that we should in that case not look back, but look forward.

    Can I just say, by the way, that when we talk about this particular clause, it is impossible not to notice that since July last year, that kiss-and-tell stories, which this was largely the public interest justification for, have virtually disappeared from tabloid newspapers. So the beneficial effects of the launching of this Inquiry, of editors having second thoughts following the phone hacking saga, have already had a terrifically positive effect on the conduct of tabloid journalism.

    Now, can that be maintained after? Well, if you adopt my very wise recipe for doing so, then I think so.

  • Of course, the alternative view would be that the Inquiry has chilled free speech.

  • Different side of the same coin.

  • Yes. I think that there will be people who will and do argue that, but the freedom to expose philandering footballers seem to me not a good reason to raise the banner of press freedom.

  • I've been asked to put this to you, Professor. Wouldn't your substantial public interest test kill the kind of entertaining stories which the section of the press you're referring to depend on?

  • To an extent, it would. Yes.

    There's no doubt -- look, if you say that there was an audience for young women being paid money to tell stories about what happened in the bedroom and that this has disappeared, we have already removed a degree of entertainment from those newspapers. That's perfectly true. And a good thing, too.

  • Professor Greenslade, I'm going to, if you don't mind, pass over the issue you deal with in the sixth chapter of your evidence, defining the public interest in law and having a general public interest defence, since we've debated that with other witnesses.

  • And the merits of that idea are being considered, but can I ask you, please, to develop your new system of regulation? In particular, what you see the need for, namely some sort of statutory underpinning for an independent system and how you differentiate that from what you call state regulation?

  • Yes. This is the toughest task you/we all face, is to devise this idea of having independent regulation, independent from the state, but at the same time relying on the state in order to ensure that we all stay on board, that it works, that it's comprehensive, and what strikes me is that we will need statute in all sorts of ways, I guess. I haven't, for instance, in my submission haven't mentioned alternative dispute resolution and so on. I could have done so. That probably would need a regulatory framework too, but in just sticking to the press regulator itself, in my view it is quite clear that you are not going to keep everyone on board, not going to be able to levy sanctions against them, unless there's a method of compulsion.

    I have tried to devise a way in which this is as far away from state intervention as it can be. We don't think that the state intervenes in the work of the judiciary, which manages to annoy the state quite often, annoy governments quite often, and it seems to me that if we can have the judiciary at arm's length from the executive, then we can devise a way of getting press regulation in a similar manner, at arm's length from the executive, too, and that was the basis of my submission.

  • Thank you. In terms of the structure of the new regulator regime, we're going to have at the centre an entity you're going to call the press regulation board, and it's appointed by a body analogous to the Judicial Appointments Commission. We understand how that works.

  • The PRB appoints the senior regulator, which we're going to call the press standards ombudsman, and then in consultation with the ombudsman the chairperson of the Press Standards Commission, and it's the Press Standards Commission which has the primary functions in relation to setting standards and adjudication?

  • And dealing with that arbitration and conciliation service that we still believe is reasonable in the general run of things, although I believe its work would be less onerous if at the same time newspapers, as I'd previously mentioned, were to deal with complaints themselves and that there should be as part of this deal a way of setting up readers' editors in every major office. In the case of regional press, it obviously could be a readers' editor who operated for a whole range of newspapers and so on, I think one needs to think a little bit more about that, but the point being that we want to encourage people to engage with their own newspaper as often as possible.

    The Press Standards Commission will then deal with appeals against that, or if they don't feel they're being dealt with right by their newspaper and it can resolve complaints, but at the same time it can see this complaint, this breach is blatant, this breach needs to be dealt with by adjudication, then it deals with that and calls on the ombudsman in those very special, but at least, it has to be said, rare events, when something really untoward occurs. McCanns, example.

  • Does each of the elements of your system, the PRB, the PSO and the PSC -- each has a statutory underpinning, is that correct?

  • I think the statutory underpinning comes from the creation of the PRB itself, that underpinning, but I mean, yes, the whole system is underpinned by statute. I think that's fair enough.

    The important thing is that the state, however, has no input into the appointments and to the workings of that organisation. It just is completely at arm's length.

  • Is the ombudsman part of the system or is it independent of it? Since the advice we've received from others is that for an ombudsman properly to be so-called, he or she needs to be independent; is that how you see it or not?

  • I'm not quite certain I follow you there. The ombudsman -- independent of whom and where?

  • Obviously independent of the entity regulated, but also independent of the regulator. In other words, separate from it.

  • Yes, I think so. I think that's really what I mean, yes. This ombudsman has to be brought in only on special occasions and therefore stands apart from the PSC, but is the auditor and monitor of that body.

  • But the PSC comes in, as you've explained, as a Court of Appeal, as it were, and to deal with particularly serious cases; is that right?

  • In terms of sanctions, the ombudsman has power to levy fines but only in what you describe as very serious, blatant or persistent code breaches; is that right?

  • Yes. There are all sorts of problems I've not explored here about fines, to be honest. It's very difficult to know what would be an appropriate fine for companies that are -- you have the problem that either companies are losing loads of money, so does the fine make that really difficult for them, or companies that are making a great deal of money and therefore the fine is not big enough to be a decent punishment. This is hugely problematic.

    I think the fine in a sense is about a public statement of this newspaper having misbehaved to such an extent that we felt it necessary to fine it, rather than the level of fine being so punishing that it would make a difference to the economic fortunes of that newspaper.

  • Professor Greenslade, what you've identified is the perennial problem of the imposition of financial penalties in the criminal law in any event, so that's not new.

  • Well, I wouldn't -- fine. Yes.

  • The constitution of the Press Standards Commission, this is section 10 of your evidence: chair will be appointed through open competition. No formal link, so it's an independent or lay person. There will be 14 additional members, 10 of them will be lay or independent, and four will be editors, but why continue to have serving editors? A number of people have said that in order for such a body properly to be independent, they should be retired editors.

  • Yes, the retired editors, I think, is a non-starter, to be honest. No editor comes without baggage, and retired editors are no different. At least with working editors, you know where they're coming from. You know that they're also steeped in the contemporaneous business of journalism, which develops fast. I absolutely take Lord Black's point on that.

    If you go for retired editors, don't think for one minute that they don't have agendas. They surely will. And I don't think that -- if memory serves me, the Press Council did this, co-opted former editors, and I didn't think it was hugely successful. No one -- I can't think of a single editor, with perhaps the exception of the Standard and the Guardian, for whom I work, who would like to see me appointed, for instance, so I'm not certain that that would work. And I'm not angling for a job, by the way.

  • But is there a problem with serving editors that you will inevitably get the most powerful people in the business, who will then have or be perceived to have an overwhelming influence on everybody else?

  • Well, no. If you say that we're looking at a composition here of 15 people and only two of them would be national newspaper editors, and although I've not put this, they could be appointed on a rota basis, there are only in the national sector, what, 20 newspapers to choose from. Some are powerful, some are less powerful, but I think if you did it on a rolling rota then you wouldn't face that problem.

  • You envisage a continuing conciliation or mediation role for the PSC?

  • But isn't that in danger of perpetuating one of the core defects of the PCC, that it spends too much time mediating and not enough time making binding decisions or adjudications which will set standards for future behaviour?

  • It would look like that, wouldn't it, but I think that what we need to do is to impose the kind of rigour on each case that is not there at the moment, and that is: is this a minor breach, an accidental breach, an oversight, a mistake, which could be dealt with by conciliation? Is it an unusual breach, in the sense that these never happened to that particular magazine or newspaper before, and therefore again let's deal with it? Is it part of a pattern? Is it a breach that really shouldn't have happened at all? That then should go up to adjudication.

    So I think there's a crucial set of decisions to make at the point when the complaint is made, and it's for the PSC to work out, along with the ombudsman, a way of making that -- of creating a mechanism, an understanding, a rule or whatever, to make that happen.

  • So there's a filtering process?

  • The run-of-the-mill category, having been filtered, fit for mediation in the first instance, but those which look potentially at least worse, either because they're systemic or because inherently they're more serious, they're not fit for mediation, they go straight into the adjudication track. Is that how you see it?

  • Yes, that's exactly how I see it.

  • Otherwise, in terms of the mechanics, editors are required to publish the decisions and presumably, indeed you say it, the PSC can state exactly where the publication of the decision should be; is that right?

  • Yes. Prominence is important. Again it has to be said the PCC has improved that matter over the years, but we still feel, I think, that a front page -- an adjudication against a story on the front page should result in some kind of front page apology and prominence it is hugely important and the ombudsman must have a right to impose the prominence on a publication.

  • In terms of appeal rights, you've already explained that the ombudsman is effectively the appeal body, but will the newspaper have a right of appeal or is this only left to the complainant?

  • I hadn't thought about that, to be honest, I just hadn't. Newspapers will probably be able to -- yes. I mean, for the purposes of the argument, I'm sure newspapers could appeal to the ombudsman too.

  • There could be certain filters as regards the ombudsman's powers, whether it has a full appeal jurisdiction, in other words will entertain or rehear all the facts, or whether it will only review the decision of the PSC, but further thought can be given to that.

  • Can I ask you about the journalists' code, which is section 12. In particular, the committee. The committee is effectively a subcommittee of the PSC; is that correct?

  • You explain how it should be composed. You'd like to see the ombudsman on it, three public members of the PSC and eight serving editors and two nominees from the NUJ, so in all we're going to have 14, I think, are we? If my arithmetic is correct.

  • But a majority of serving editors. Is the thinking behind that that only they will know sufficient of what's occurring at grass-roots level to be attuned to current standards and the application of those standards?

  • I think one of the things I've noticed in the criticism of the current system is that people are really confused about the role of the Code Committee. Mainly, for instance, people will simply say and have said over the years: Paul Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail, runs the PCC because he happens to chair the Code Committee. This is a libel on my dear friend Paul Dacre. I mean, the truth is the Code Committee does straightforward work. It's been non-controversial. It has responded to public pressure over the years. I don't feel that this criticism is valid.

    So I think that the -- my only desire with creating a new journalists' code and a new committee is to ensure that we get some working journalists onto it who aren't editors. It would be unpopular to choose the NUJ, but the NUJ is the -- I think has 65, 70 per cent of the journalists working across Britain, more than any other group representing them, so I think it's fair to choose them, but I don't think this is a matter of -- it's needless controversy to say the code -- the Code Committee is a very, very straightforward matter, not problematic in my view, and working editors on it makes sense.

    It's not as if they've designed the code in private to favour themselves. The code has, in fact, constrained them, and so -- you pointed out that it's largely very negative in that sense. So I would have thought the code is an example of the editors having behaved rather well.

  • Okay. Within the individual newspapers, you recommend or propose a readers' editor, who will be the first port of call for complaints.

  • Is it anticipated that the majority of complaints will be dealt with internally, and only the minority will ever have to see the light of day before the PSC in any event?

  • I think that what I'd like to imagine is that readers' editors satisfy complainants well enough, that if complainants -- what complainants need to know from the readers' editor is: if you're not satisfied with what I'm doing on your behalf and the result, then you have the right to go to the PSC. So that's, I think, a straightforward matter.

  • And the readers' editor would have to have sufficient clout to make sure or at least to carry the authority that avoided the risk of further retaliation.

  • Yes. I mean the role of the readers' editor -- and lots of papers have appointed readers' editors or internal ombudsmen in the past -- I'm talking about tabloids -- they've tended not to be really interventionist in the office. I think we'd have to conceive of a readers' editor having sufficient power and influence within the office to ensure that his or her writ runs properly, that there can't be retaliation against those who complain, and that also the readers' editor can bring pressure to bear in order to ensure that corrections, clarifications, apologies are given due weight in the way that you'd expect the PSC to be able to do at its remove.

    So you're hoping to create -- this might be a bit idealistic, but I think this is the moment for idealism. We want to, I think, create a situation in which there is much more internal accounting for mistakes, and the readers' editor is a mechanism for doing so.

  • Is this a job that can be combined with some other job? Because one of the things that I heard about from some editors was: well, if you impose this additional financial strain on me, then that's going to cause me enormous problems because of my precarious financial position.

  • Well, tough. I think they just have to take that on board, to be absolutely honest. No, I think a readers' editor has to be separate from the daily run of things. It seems to me, going on the level and number of complaints that go in at the present, that the readers' editor will have a lot of work to do anyway.

  • Sections 13 and 14 we can take together, it's the issue of funding and the issue of compulsion. My understanding of your proposal is that this is a voluntary system. It's going to be contract based, but there's going to be no statutory obligation to join in. Have I correctly understood where you're coming from?

  • Yes. I ought to say that of course I made my submission in advance of reading Lord Black's contract, which I only saw a couple of days after, going through it really carefully. I'm not against the contract idea in theory, you know, his theory of the contract idea. I have other problems which we might discuss in a second about it, but the point is that this is a similar idea of having a contract, and it would be voluntary, and so you would need to ensure that you want to make sure that as many people -- indeed, everyone volunteers.

    That having been said, the subtlety of Dr Moore's Media Standards Trust argument about who should be compelled to be inside and not -- I think I merely said, oh, Guido Fawkes and Private Eye could be outside and we should live with that, but his formula was, I thought, wonderfully elegant, I think that was really clever, that really we're dealing in the end -- what we are dealing with when we're dealing with the press is power and dominance. What his group have clearly seen is that if you are not a dominating and influential publication in which you're bringing people into the public arena and belittling them, ruining their reputation, making their life difficult, if you're not one of those, then it's fair enough for you to stand outside the system. So I hadn't -- obviously I hadn't seen his decision either, before mine.

    So I would take that on board in what I say here about how we create a voluntary way in, because obviously after that we need sanctions against those or whatever to ensure that they do come in.

  • As I understand the Media Standards Trust view, large companies within the Companies Act would have to be in.

  • Yes. Large companies would have to be in. That's true. But they are -- they're the dominant, powerful, influential press in our country.

  • And you're content with that approach?

  • I am content with that approach. I wish I'd seen it in advance. But yes, I'm content with that.

  • Although there is an arbitrary business about where you make the split, but I think that can be talked about.

  • There is always going to be a line.

  • The question is, and this is one of the fundamental issues in this, whether there can or should be any compulsion for anyone, or whether you've just got to do it with carrots and sticks. If there are sufficient carrots and if there are sufficient sticks.

  • Yes. And that is where the whole set of problems lie, in whether we can -- whether people are going to say this is clearly such a fantastic idea, we're going to sign up to it, we're going to be involved, or whether they say, no, I'm not going for that. More particularly, I think everyone will sign up initially, but will they be back sliding and how do you prevent back sliding? That's where we get into penalties for those who don't -- the unvolunteered volunteers.

  • But do you think it is a matter of philosophical obligation that one doesn't compel anybody to be in? Because that's what I heard from some people.

  • I'm interested in your view.

  • No, I think the truth is that since we're dealing with people who exercise power which has caused this crisis in the first place, that there has to be compulsion and I don't see that that is an inhibition of press freedom to -- you know, we don't set up separate courts in this country.

  • So you wouldn't need fines, then, if we're talking about compulsion for the larger bodies, and you wouldn't need them for the smaller bodies because the smaller bodies would be participating voluntarily in any event.

  • But you're proposing a series of incentives, as it were, which would encourage the smaller bodies at least to consider joining it?

  • Sure. I think that obviously we'd -- obviously I think there would be, for small publications, there would be this point that they would be able to say, "We have the kite mark, we are regulated, we have gone into this voluntarily, and we like what it means in terms of showing the public that the public can have trust in us."

  • The incentives you propose are not dissimilar from many others that have been suggested to the Inquiry. Unfortunately, the VAT one doesn't work.

  • The VAT one doesn't work, but others have come forward since then, such as the removal of the Press Association service. That strikes me as very harsh indeed. I'm not certain about where we stand on freedom on that one either.

    To be honest, I can't think of a sufficient range of sanctions that would be absolutely cast-iron guarantees that the publisher would give in, but I think if you remove the currency -- if we say newspapers have only two forms of income, which is sales revenue and advertising revenue, if you remove the currency which enables them to get advertising, you remove their membership of the national readership survey and the ABC auditing, you take those away, then I think that that is a pretty harsh form of compulsion, and I don't think that that's been explored sufficiently.

  • Who runs those organisations?

  • The publishers. So advertisers, magazines, newspapers form a collective council at the audit bureau of circulation, and so they can decide their own fate. So if one of their members is not part of the regulatory, they can say, "Right, you're out of the ABC, you're not getting audited", and similarly the same thing could happen at the national readership survey, also run in a similar fashion.

    I am told, in discussion with Lord Black, he said this one couldn't run, but with the greatest of respect to him, I don't know if it's really been explored sufficiently. It seems to me that that is better than fines, really. It's so self-evident to me that that would really be a very clever way of compulsion.

  • The advantage or one advantage of it might be that it removes any risk of criticism that it is interfering with free speech. This business about the suggestion of press cards has --

  • Of which I'm not in favour, yes.

  • -- all sorts of free speech issues it seems to me, I know that it's Mr Dacre who's suggested it, but it seems to me has real problems in that regard, and this doesn't.

  • No. I'm not keen on the press cards. I've read what Paul has had to say about it but I'm not keen on it. I'm not keen on anything which inhibits free speech, which means that free floating journalists can't operate, and so on. So this is hitting publishers where it hurts, in terms of revenue.

  • I think the issue there is likely to be one of competition law and Section 9 of the Act and public interest, about which we're going to get further submissions.

  • If there had been an easy solution, we'd have found it a long time ago.

  • Yes. That's also true. And I'm sure Guy will have already had that advice and that's the reason he felt confident in saying it wouldn't fly, but I'd hope that we could make it fly.

  • You wanted to comment, though, on Lord Hunt's proposals, Professor Greenslade. You let that slip five minutes ago.

  • I'll let you do that, if you wish.

  • It's really Lord Black's. We have to be rather careful about that.

  • Having been through the contract, and I had to do it two or three times, but anyway, when I -- the key to me is this little diagram. I think you used this.

  • Appendix 2, yes.

  • Appendix 2. It's great, isn't it, because the really thick outline is the trust board at the heart, but it's these little bodies feeding into it which struck me as being problematic. The industry funding body and the appointment panel for the chairman's appointment and so on.

    I don't want to be rude about -- they've obviously spent a huge amount of time trying to do this and so on, but it struck me that it's a sort of bureaucratic spider's web, and the spider is the industry still at the centre of the web, controlling everything, and it seemed that they still had far too much control in order to, I think, alleviate public disquiet that this is still an industry -- this is still an industry organisation in which they still have too many levers of influence.

    If you just take funding, for a start. Funding is not a sort of joke thing. If you pull that lever, you constrain that lever, you control. And so I would be really worried about the industry funding board aspect. It seems to me it's PressBoF reborn, and I think that's that's a problem.

    I thought his phrase about independently led self-regulation was beautifully put. It's actually in his submission too. But what we're really aiming for, are we not, is independently led independent regulation. We still -- you know, we want regulation, is really what we want, and it seems that this was too convoluted, to bureaucratic, too vague a process, and although I share Lord Black's philosophical objections to state involvement, even his schema seems to me that at some stage there would need to be some statutory underpinning, and that really is no different from my view and no different in some respects to Dr Moore's view.

  • In terms of the Internet, Professor Greenslade, is the position this: with the smaller entities, they would be outside the system, or rather their participation would be voluntary --

  • -- but the larger ones would be compelled?

  • Can I ask you, please, to develop your final personal observation, perhaps adding to it any thoughts which have come to mind since?

  • Before you do that, was there anything else you wanted to say about the proposition put forward by the Press Standards Board of Finance? You mentioned the appointment process.

  • Well, yes. That was somewhat -- one of my criticisms of the Press Complaints Commission and PressBoF over the years has been it being too opaque a process. We want transparency, and it seems to me that this is also rather opaque, about how you would appoint.

    Mine is really an open example of how that could be overcome, and I'm not saying -- you know, I can see Guy said several times over, "This is an iterative process", and I can see that they've moved already as they're going on, and I think they will take on board other things, and perhaps they'll obviously take on board that the appointments need to be totally at arm's length.

    I'm just keen for them to -- if we go the contract route, which I don't think is necessarily a bad thing, I'm still very keen for them to remove any aspect of the industry pulling strings, whether it's about appointments or funding.

  • Thank you. Any final thoughts, Professor Greenslade? You've developed one or two on the final page of your statement, but particularly in the light of anything which has come to mind since or anything which has specifically been thrown up by this Inquiry, perhaps?

  • As you probably see, I write endlessly about it. It's been my interest and passion for 20 years, this whole business, and I have been a critic and commentator all that time, so I could spend hours here, but I'll just do it in one sentence: we have this chance, I think, to improve the standards and ethics of our profession, trade, craft, whatever you care to call it, and I think that we've had periodic bouts of bad behaviour and we need to devise a final system that for the present, for the moment, while we still have print, can actually stop the dominance and power of large organisations to make life incredibly miserable for other people.

  • That's not necessarily restricted to print, is it?

  • Well, we're only dealing with print here. I mean --

  • But print that goes into digital. The problem -- I'm not suggesting there is a problem with the Huffington Post, but the difference is not that it's the Huffington Post as opposed to a printed document; it is the way in which we collect our material and then present it to the public, whether in paper form or digitally, isn't it?

  • Yes. However -- and this is a much wider argument -- for me, still, print sets the national conversation, not what appears on the screen. What appears on screen is a repeat of that, but what we don't know is -- and yet not enough work has been done on this -- as to whether, when we move to a screen base, that the level of influence that comes from the printed word and the totality of newspapers working together to create a feeding frenzy in the manner of the poor parents of Madeleine McCann, what we don't know and what we can't know is whether, when we move to a screen-based -- totally screen-based news outlets, whether that kind of feeding frenzy can occur.

    I think it's the power of print that has made that happen. It's a different argument, but I am more relaxed about the digital world than I am about the print world.

  • One of the concerns that have been addressed to me is that I have to make sure that I am not simply focusing on yesterday's technology, but that I should think about things in a way that encompasses what tomorrow's might be. I've actually found it quite difficult to visualise what tomorrow's might be, but I have an idea what today's is. That's not therefore a concern which really troubles you for the reason you've just given.

  • Thank you very much, Professor Greenslade.

  • Professor, I hope that your MA student, whose comment you observed, did well in her exam. It seems a very pithy way of putting it.

  • Yes, she got a good mark. Thank you.

  • For those who don't have it in front of them:

    "Most ethical dilemmas in the media are a struggle between conscience and revenue."

    Thank you very much indeed.

  • May we move on to our next witness and break after about 15 minutes?

  • Is Mr Suter here?