Former Herald Editor Points to 'Failure' of Self-Regulation

Self-regulation of the press has proved to be “weak and ineffective”, a former Scottish national newspaper editor has declared.

Writing in today’s Scotsman newspaper, former Herald editor, Charles McGhee – who sat on the Press Complains Commission (PCC) for two years – admits the watchdog is “toothless” when faced with high-profile cases.

The claim came after Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed the Lord Justice Leveson inquiry set up by Westminster to look into phone hacking is to cover Scotland.

Says McGhee: “The press has always resisted statutory regulation, insisting that the imposition of legal shackles would inhibit its public watchdog role and compromise its place at the heart of a free democracy.

“But with freedom comes responsibility, and the industry’s argument has been wearing a little thin amid the torrent of revelations flooding out from the beleaguered News International stable.

“Self-regulation, so fiercely defended by the industry, is weak and ineffective when it comes to standing up to media giants such as Murdoch’s newspapers.

“The Press Complaints Commission – whose hard-working team actually resolve around 90 per cent of complaints received – is unlikely to survive in its present form.

“Whatever success it can point to in its day-to-day deliberations, when it comes to the high-profile cases of national significance it is a toothless watchdog.

“Clearly, newspapers such as the News of World did not live in fear of the PCC’s censure or its only real weapon – a printed apology.”

It was also announced yesterday that the recently-launched inquiry is to have its remit widened to examine both broadcasters and social media as well – a move that has stoked criticism from McGhee.

He adds: “For broadcasters, it is difficult to see how the picture is going to change. The BBC Trust has a robust internal complaints system, and Ofcom can hit both the BBC and independent broadcasters with massive fines.

“As for the chattering classes on social media, Mr Cameron should tread warily. He wouldn’t be the first politician to be toppled by Twitter.”