PM signals end of Press Complaints Commission

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The Prime Minister sounded the death knell of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) today.

David Cameron said the News of the World phone-hacking scandal had exposed the press watchdog as "ineffective and lacking in rigour" and there was a need for "a new system entirely".

Bob Satchwell, chief executive of the Society of Editors, said the idea that the scandal had shown up a failure of ethics across the industry was "total nonsense".

And he said the PCC, like Mr Cameron, had been entitled to believe that the original police inquiry had dealt with the situation after the convictions of private investigator Glenn Mulcaire and royal editor Clive Goodman.

Announcing the inquiry into regulation, Mr Cameron said: "Let's be honest. The Press Complaints Commission has failed. In this case, the hacking case, frankly it was pretty much absent.

"Therefore we have to conclude that it's ineffective and lacking in rigour.

"There is a strong case for saying it's institutionally conflicted because competing newspapers judge each other. As a result it lacks public confidence.

"I believe we need a new system entirely. It will be for the inquiry to recommend what the system should look like.

"But my starting presumption is that it should be truly independent, independent from the press, so the public will know that newspapers will never again be solely responsible for policing themselves.

"But vitally, independent of government, so the public will know that politicians are not trying to control or muzzle a press that must be free to hold politicians to account."

Mr Satchwell said: "At least he is saying we should take a careful look at this.

"At this point people are saying that the whole system failed. But it might be that with some careful questioning they will find it didn't fail as much as they think."

Earlier Ed Miliband also called for the PCC to be scrapped.

The Labour leader said the regulator was exposed as a "toothless poodle" after it failed in a 2009 report to get to the bottom of the hacking scandal and concluded there was no evidence it had been misled by the paper.

Mr Satchwell said: "We must bear in mind, as Mr Cameron said, that everyone thought that (the phone-hacking scandal) had been dealt with by the original police inquiry.

"He believed that and I think other people were entitled to believe that.

"What's absolutely clear now is that the police didn't look at all the evidence.

"If they had, the PCC might have come to a different view and taken a tougher stance against the News of the World."

He added: "The idea that this is a total failure of ethics across the press and of the PCC is absolute nonsense.

"This story is not actually about media ethics, it's about crime. Phone-hacking is against the law."

Mr Cameron said people wanted "some frankness about what the politicians got wrong themselves - a relationship that became too close, too cosy".

He said: "We were all in this world wanting the support of newspaper groups and, yes, the broadcasting organisations.

"And when we are doing that, do we spend enough time asking questions about how these organisations are regulated and malpractices and the rest of it? No we didn't."

Mr Satchwell said: "It's for politicians to decide how close their relationships are with senior figures in the industry. It's quite clear that relationships do have to be held. You have to have a dialogue between editors and politicians."

Mr Satchwell said he didn't believe the Prime Minister wanted a new regulator to be "entirely independent" and editors would have to be involved.

He said: "I've never heard any serious politician saying that self-regulation should be ended. They certainly don't want statutory regulation."

Mr Satchwell said the whole saga was coloured by politics - by the BSkyB deal, by Mr Cameron's relationship with former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, whom he made No 10 communications chief - and the opportunity for politicians to take their revenge on the press.

He said: "It's as though the politicians are gathering around to say this is an opportunity to get back at the press which exposed their expenses scandals.

"We need to remember that the industry took on board the problems when they first came to light in 2006.

"All we know at the moment is that two people went to jail at the News of the World. What we don't know is if anybody else deserves to be charged with any offence.

"The first thing we need to do is let the police inquiry run its course to see what that uncovers.

"Too often the media are accused of jumping the gun. Now the politicians are wading in."

The PCC said it should not be claimed as a "convenient scalp" and its work had been "grossly undervalued".

In a statement it said: "We welcome that there will be a fair and open, evidence-based inquiry.

"We are confident that such an inquiry will recognise the considerable successes of the Press Complaints Commission, to which the Prime Minister himself referred some weeks ago.

"We do not accept that the scandal of phone-hacking should claim, as a convenient scalp, the Press Complaints Commission.

"The work of the PCC, and of a press allowed to have freedom of expression, has been grossly undervalued today."

It continued: "However, as the PCC has said consistently, it believes that the outcome of phone-hacking should be a more independent PCC.

"It is confident that it is precisely what the Prime Minister's inquiry will also have to conclude.

"There should be fundamental reform of the system, as we have already recognised and called for."

The statement said it was "for the newspaper and magazine industry itself to make the case for their continued independence from Government" and in the meantime it would continue to "uphold the ethical standards enshrined in the Code of Practice".