Press & publishing | Special report: media law | Special report: press and privacy
Privacy laws only protect the rich, editors insist
Tuesday June 17, 2003
Paul Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail, welcomed the the culture select committee's suggestions on how the current system of self-regulation could be improved.
However, he said he "disagreed profoundly" with its recommendation that the government should introduce privacy legislation.
"This would merely be yet another method for the rich, the powerful and the corrupt to hide their transgressions from their public and provide a feeding frenzy for the lawyers," said Dacre.
The out of court settlement the People awarded Radio 1 DJ Sara Cox and her husband, Jon Carter, for publishing pictures of them nude on honeymoon, and Catherine Zeta Jones' court battle against Hello! over unapproved wedding photographs have highlighted the privacy issue this year.
However, the committee, led by veteran Labour backbencher Gerald Kaufman, had a remit to concentrate on ordinary members of the public rather than celebrities.
"Ordinary people, whose privacy had been invaded, would not be able to afford the huge sums involved in bringing a case before the courts," said Dacre.
"Such cases also lead to yet more exposure in court of the matters the complainant wishes to keep private.
"The committee's further detailed recommendations to improve self-regulation deserve serious examination.
"I am confident all those who believe in self-regulation, as opposed to government censorship, will be ready and willing to seek improvement."
The Independent's editor-in-chief, Simon Kelner, said: "I welcome almost all the suggestions to strengthen the press complaints commission and achieve greater transparency - but a privacy law is a step too far.
"The main danger of a privacy law is it will act, as it does in France, and will be a curb against investigative journalism."
Kelner said MPs "wanted it both ways" by calling for a privacy law at the same time as recommending detailed improvements to the current system.
He added the committee was "slightly whistling in the wind" after the culture secretary, Tessa Jowell, made it clear the government had no plans to introduce a privacy law.
"The government has already intimated they don't have any appetite for a privacy law. This government is not going to bring it in and I can't see subsequent governments wanting to bring it in," Kelner said.
He also cast doubt on the committee's recommendation that the PCC should introduce a system of fixed fines for newspapers that breach its code.
However, he agreed with fining newspapers through the back door by increasing their contributions to Presbof, the body that funds self-regulation.
The Daily Mirror editor, Piers Morgan, was less circumspect in his criticism of the committee's findings.
"It's a vacuous exercise in self-indulgence by a bunch of busy-body MPs with nothing better to do all day," Morgan said.
"This report comes to the same conclusion that their predecessors came to a decade ago - that we need a privacy law," he added, referring to recommendations made by the national heritage committee in 1993.
"They pretend this would protect ordinary members of the public when, in fact, everyone knows it would only serve to protect the rich, famous and powerful. And, of course, MPs.
"This is what happens in France where public officials can behave with crooked impunity and the press can't write about it."
Morgan praised self-regulation which, he said, had improved press standards dramatically over the past decade.
"Buried away in the report is an admission that press standards have improved under the PCC, yet they still insist self-regulation doesn't work. The truth is it works very well," Morgan said.
"Most of the people who complain are satisfied with the outcome of the usually speedy resolution.
"Like any complaints body, a few people remain dissatisfied whatever the resolution.
"Press standards have improved dramatically in the last 10 years and self-regulation has palpably worked."
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