Journalists and the Code

In my last post I suggested – based on what I had read on the PCC website and in the various communications that they put out – that journalists should be punished more frequently because the PCC code is often written into their contracts of employment. Thanks to a reader getting in touch I stand corrected and was directed to a recent bulletin issued by Mediawise in response to the independent review of ‘The governance of the Press Complaints Commission’. This bulletin made it clear that:

Contrary to a myth popular at the PCC for many years, the Code is not written into most journalists’ contracts, especially the increasing number who are freelances. And why should it be – they have no say in its compilation, nor in editorial decisions, nor in the PCC. And there is the rub. For the moment the Code of Practice policed by the PCC is indeed the Editors’ Code (they write it, agree to be judged by it and their publications pay the PCC to adjudicate on alleged breaches).

According to the logic employed throughout the review to justify the current system of self-regulation, if working journalists are to be disciplined under the Code – they should have a say in how it is compiled and moderated. If it is to be used to initiate disciplinary procedures at the behest of an external body, then working journalists and their organisations should be represented not just on the PCC but also on the industry’s Code Committee. Nonetheless MediaWise has argued that self-regulation would be enhanced among working journalists if they were to supplement, not replace, editors on the PCC.

The point is a good one and perhaps implies that because journalists do not form part of the regulatory process, or are necessarily contracted to abide by the code, more accountability lies ultimately with the editors in charge of journalists. It is reasonable to expect editors to take full responsibility for any breaches in the code because they are the ones who write it and agree to abide by it; whilst the journalists are not strictly subject to its ‘rules’ – such as they are. Presumably the role of the editor – whilst diminished in certain aspects of rolling news publication (online for example) – is still crucial in determining what is and what isn’t fit to print. In reality a journalist writes a story, a breach can only occur if the editor sees fit to publish it.

Once again the spotlight shines brightly at the likes of Paul Dacre who Chairs the Editor’s code committee, yet is editor of the most complained about newspaper in the UK. If his journalists are not part of the regulatory process then it is his job to apply the code to his editorial decisions. Something he seems pathologically against doing, considering the current output of his newspaper.


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