Christopher Meyer: Self regulation

From a speech by the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission to the Society of Editors in St Bride's church, Fleet Street
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The Independent Online

When I became chairman on 31 March, the Press Complaints Commission bore more than a passing resemblance to the Light Brigade at Balaklava, with me pressed into the role of Lord Raglan. Cannon to the right of us from the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee. Cannon to the left in the Communications Bill and the ghostly spectre of Ofcom. Cannon even from behind, manned by the monstrous regiment of celeb lawyers. Well, we did better than Raglan. We charged the guns and spiked them.

The Lord Chancellor dropped his plans to introduce statutory legislation on witness payments after it became clear self-regulation and the editor's Code of Practice could deliver. The Sara Cox case came and went without altering the crucial Human Rights Act rulings that have strongly favoured, and indeed buttressed, the work of the PCC.

The Communications Bill passed through Parliament without amendment, and with the integrity of our self-regulation untouched. And the Select Committee produced a report which for the first time endorsed the principles of self-regulation and the authority and work of the commission. No one should doubt the achievement - a good deal of which was down to the work of the Society Of Editors and its members, who assiduously took part in the Select Committee process and effectively lobbied MPs.

External threats to self regulation may go into remission, but they are never eliminated. Like Dracula they are always pushing at the coffin lid. Heaven forfend that an editor should commit a serious error of judgement; but it takes only one or two for the enemies of self-regulation to be re-energised.

Two preconditions are indispensable, if our system of self regulation is to ride out the next storms when they come, as surely they will. The first is that the commission must keep on evolving and adapting. The code is permanently put to the test. It is your task to ensure it is not found wanting in concept and our task to see that it is consistently applied.

Second, the commission, though independent from the industry, can only function with full effectiveness if there is industry solidarity behind our system of self-regulation. Internal corrosion is as deadly as external threats.