Phone Hacking Scandal May Kill British Press Watchdog Agency

Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

England's top press watchdog agency appears to be facing a shutdown after Prime Minister David Cameron criticized it for failing to respond adequately to the recent phone hacking scandal.

The Press Complaints Commission of London, which is charged with reviewing complaints against the press, earlier this week renounced a report it issued in 2009 that had essentially cleared News of the World from having misled the agency in a previous review.

That admission in the wake of recent claims that the newspaper hacked into voice messages of crime victims and non-celebrities as far back as 2002 drew more scrutiny of its work.

On Friday, Cameron criticized the agency in a speech in which he essentially called for it to be dismantled and replaced, according to The Guardian.

Cameron stated in the speech today:

Let's be honest: the Press Complaints Commission has failed.

In this case - in the hacking case - it was, frankly, completely absent.

Therefore, we have to conclude that it is ineffective and lacking in rigour.

There is a strong case for saying it is institutionally conflicted, because competing newspapers judge each other.

As a result, it lacks public confidence.

So I believe we need a new system entirely.

PCC leaders issued the following statement Friday in response to Cameron:

The Press Complaints Commission has noted the Prime Minister's statement today.

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.

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. But the PCC can, in the final evaluation, play its part in this. It is already doing so, and this can inform the work of the inquiry.

Now, it is for the newspaper and magazine industry itself to make the case for their continued independence from Government.

Meanwhile, the dedicated staff of the PCC will continue to serve the public (a service that effectively helps thousands of people every year), and uphold the ethical standards enshrined in the Code of Practice.

8 July 2011

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