Media Credibility Raised by British News Council

Article excerpt

The purpose of a news council is to provide the public an avenue to file complaints about news outlets. The United States has never had a national news council similar to the Public Complaints Commission (PCC) in Great Britain. The only formal news council in the U.S. is a regional council serving only the state of Minnesota.

Bob Shaw, founding member of the Minnesota News Council, says that news councils are good for the news media but the media does not particularly like the councils.

"The working media at best tolerates a council ... The public, though, loves the idea of a council, and the public needs it," Shaw says. "We have noticed that when members of the public go through our process, their respect for the news media is higher."

The same is true of English subjects. The PCC in London is designed to protect individuals from defamation of character and intrusion into their private lives by certain sections of the press. Founded in 1991, the PCC represents national and regional editors of the British news media. Together, they produced a Code of Practice.

For the first time, Parliament believed "non-statutory self-regulation can be made to work effectively. This is a stiff test for the press. If it fails, we recommend that a statutory system for handling complaints should be introduced."

The PCC had 18 months to prove that self-regulation would work. Otherwise, Parliament would consider formal legislation to regulate the intrusion of privacy. Legislation dealing with defamation and libel already exist in British law.

Intense scrutiny from Parliament, the government and the public has prompted press self-regulation to become stronger.

"Our aim at the Press Complaints Commission remains consistent: to uphold the freedom of the press - which is absolutely fundamental to a healthy democracy - at the same time as providing an increasingly effective and accountable method of redress for abuses of that freedom," Rt. Hon Lord Wakeham, chairman of the PCC, says.

Since the appointment of Lord Wakeham in 1995, the PCC has increased its commitment to the effectiveness and endurance of the PCC. As a result, the government acknowledged the PCC's continuing efforts to self-regulate and reaffirmed its support of the PCC.

Most complaints made with the PCC are resolved to the satisfaction of those complaining. When a complaint is filed, several requirements must be met by the "victim. …