The Press Complaints Commission have come in for criticism from some quarters and the organisation is viewed variously as being incompetent, toothless, or too close to the industry it is supposed to regulate. Some suggestions have been made as to how the PCC can be improved. It seems to me that one thing the PCC may lack is expertise in some of the fields they are asked to rule on.
The Media Standards Trust are currently conducting a review and the MST Director is quoted as saying: “Without urgent reform we believe that self-regulation of the press will become increasingly ineffective at both protecting the public and promoting good journalism”. The MST called for constructive ideas for reform and are due to publish their recommendations later this year. Martin Belam made some excellent suggestions on his blog regarding reform of the PCC and I had one or two ideas of my own: that the make-up of the PCC be looked at (seven of the sixteen current members are part of the industry being regulated); and that the regulatory body should have the power to recompense individuals/groups affected by the inaccurate, distorted, and/or misleading stories that currently pervade the mainstream media.
The PCC are sometimes asked to adjudicate on articles that relate to scientific research or health and it appears that none of the current members have expertise in this area. During correspondence with the PCC, I asked whether they had access to a scientific expert who could assist them with complaints relating to inaccuracy in the reporting of scientific research and it was confirmed that they do not. Those who have disagreed with PCC decisions on reporting of science and health may think that it would be a good idea for the PCC to avail themselves of the expertise that currently exists but is not being utilised. JQH, for example, expected very little from the Press Complaints Commission and was not disappointed. I expect there are others who have been similarly unimpressed with PCC adjudications. Personally, I was disappointed that the commission rejected my complaint about newspaper coverage of a study that discussed a possible link between red meat consumption and risk of age-related macular degeneration. At the time, one commentator wrote that “As someone whose lab works on AMD, I have to say that this is amongst the worst examples of a sub-editor taking a decent scientific study and twisting it round to suit the publication’s agenda. Unhelpful and pretty low I’d say.” As it appears that the PCC have no plans to ask for expert advice, it seems likely that complaints to the commission about the reporting of science and health will continue to be reviewed by a body that lacks expertise.
There is an intriguing possibility, though. As I read it, the PCC board should be made up of seven editors and ten lay members: “There are three classes of members: the Chairman, Public Members (or lay) and Press (or industry) Members”. While the Chairman is “appointed by the newspaper and magazine publishing industry”, the Public Members and Press Members are apparently appointed by an independent Appointments Commission. As I said, it seems to me that there should be seven Press Members and ten Public Members – there are currently only sixteen members of the commission. Perhaps somebody scientifically-literate would like to apply for the current Public Member vacancy?