The press and the right of reply

Here on Liberal Democrat Voice we’ve often covered the work of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), including the motion being proposed at party conference on it and a response to motion piece from the PCC itself.

It isn’t only on Liberal Democrat Voice that the PCC has been given a full column to express its views. Last week’s edition of the party’s newspaper, Liberal Democrat News, also contained a column from the Press Complaints Commission, this time in the form of its chair Baroness Buscombe.

On reading it I was moved to pen the following letter, which appears in the latest edition of the paper:

The size and prominence of PCC Chair Baroness Buscombe’s column in last week’s Liberal Democrat News highlights one of the major issues with current press self-regulation. She wanted to respond to points made about her organisation in a party conference motion and I’m glad to see that Lib Dem News gave her such space and prominence to do so. But look what happens in similar situations where it isn’t the Chair of the PCC and Lib Dem News but an ordinary member of the public and a national newspaper. A national newspaper’s response to getting stories wrong is still, far too often, to bury away a small, little apology long after the original story has appeared and been widely read.

Some newspapers, and some individual journalists, have shown how the world doesn’t end if you correct stories quickly and promptly and if you give significant column inches to people to respond. I hope Baroness Buscombe’s ability to get such prominence for her own views on this occasion encourages her to push the newspaper industry to give others the same space and consideration far more often in future too.

One of the examples I had in mind was my own experience of contacting the Evening Standard about errors, which has been broadly positive and, although not perfect, vastly better than many other newspapers. Far too often the default position seems to be ignore emails pointing out factual errors. Raising more newspapers to the Evening Standard‘s level and beyond should, in my view, be a key role for the Press Complaints Commission. That would of course require its role to be more as about raising standards overall rather than simply being the arbiter of individual complaints, but as I’ve argued before that is just the sort of change we should see.

Note: Liberal Democrat News appears weekly and you can subscribe to it via the party’s website.

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