Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger has resigned from the Press Complaint Commission's code committee after it criticised the Guardian's coverage of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, reported the Guardian and others. The PCC's code committee oversees the voluntary code of practice which governs journalistic best practice in the UK. It is made up of 13 editors of national and regional publications, and is chaired by Paul Dacre, the Daily Mail editor.
In July, the Guardian claimed that the News of the World had paid out more than £1 million to settle cases that would reveal evidence that the paper's journalists had been involved in illegally hacking into public figures' mobile phones. Last week, the PCC said it found no evidence that it had been misled by the NOTW over alleged mobile phone hacking, or that the practice was ongoing. The body also criticised the Guardian's coverage of the story, with PCC chair Baroness Buscombe claiming that the paper had misquoted a policeman. Immediately after the report was published, Rusbridger described it as "worse than pointless," and said that the police, MPs and lawyers had taken the lead in investigating the NOTW's activities. "If you have a self-regulation system that's finding nothing out and has no teeth, and all the work is being done by external people, it's dangerous for self-regulation," the Guardian quoted its editor as saying.
The PCC's report has been criticised by MPs, who promised to launch an inquiry of their own, via the Commons culture, media and sport select committee. The International Federation of Journalists plans to launch an investigation into the way the PCC handled its inquiry, as part of a review of media accountability systems. Journalist Jean-Paul Marthoz will lead the investigation, and will report back by the end of January.
"This case raises serious questions about the role and responsibility of a press complaints body to be fair and honest in its dealings with the press," Aidan White, general secretary of the IFJ, said to the Guardian. "If journalists and media cannot trust a self-regulator to be fair, the whole system of self-rule in media loses credibility."
It could equally be argued, however, that by not accepting the verdicts of the regulator, news organisations are themselves undermining it. The general consensus seems to be that self-regulation is the best method for overseeing journalistic practice, despite the fact that the PCC itself has been under considerable scrutiny in recent months, and is currently undergoing an independent review. Rusbridger said that "I believe in self-regulation because I cannot imagine a country in which the government regulates the press, or there is statutory regulation. But the press is in a very weak position today because its own regulator, its self-regulation, has proved so weak."