Could bloggers kill the PCC?

19 October 2010 – The PCC has reluctantly agreed to reopen its file on the News of the World phone-tapping scandal, but never did fully investigate past evidence from the Information Commissioner’s Office that many other papers have obtained personal data by illicit means.

Meanwhile the PCC is chewing over the latest face-saving review of its governance procedures. But it will have to ask permission from its paymaster – the newspaper industry – if it is to adopt one key recommendation that it should have the power to reprimand editors in person and have journalists disciplined for serious breaches of the Editor’s Code.

Isn’t it all too little, too late, and too ludicrous? Do we really need a weak-kneed system that can take months to prise an apology or correction from erring editors, when most of us now have that power at their fingertips – fast, free and fairly easily?

The blogosphere has already proved itself a worthy platform from which to shame the press for prurience, inaccuracy and poor taste (which the PCC says is none of its business anyway).

The moment the Scottish Sunday Express’ disgraceful front page story ‘Anniversary Shame of Dunblane Survivors’ hit the newsstands on 8 March 2009 there was uproar on the web. More than 11,000 people signed an online petition objecting to a story based on material lifted surreptitiously from young people’s Facebook pages. Within days the online version was down, and an apology printed on 22 March. It took another three months for the PCC to adjudicate and censure the newspaper.

An online campaign in November 2009 encouraged a record 25,000 complaints to the PCC about Jean Moir’s homophobic Daily Mail article about the death of Stephen Gately, and even targeted the Mail’s advertisers. This time the PCC made a laughing stock of itself by rejecting the complaints.

And in May this year, criticism on Twitter of Zoo magazine’s ‘agony uncle’ Danny Dyer for advising a man to “cut his ex’s face, so no one will want her”, led to an almost instant apology and the dropping of Dyer’s column.

This is much tougher redress than the PCC has ever mustered.

The blogosphere has become a virtual mirror reflecting upon media content and challenging the veracity and motives of the producers. Andrew Marr may look down his nose at the ‘socially-inadequate’ bloggers out there, but an increasing number keep an eye on press misdemeanours and are getting support from journalists themselves.

So maybe we don’t need a statutory right of reply any more. Instead we all need to become exponents of a new type of media accountability.

That is one reason journalists and bloggers are getting together in Bristol this weekend – to discuss the potential of the blogosphere to change mainstream media behaviour. We shall be sharing ideas with colleagues across Europe and the Arab world who see the blogosphere as a territory from which to liberate themselves from censorship and injustice whether by repressive governments or unaccountable media companies.

Cyberspace may be the new battleground, but it also represents ultimate democratisation. No-one may have the time and energy to absorb or filter all its news and views, but citizens can now select, compare and contrast them, reject or respond to them, and even make their own. As more and more join the blogosphere, perhaps their ‘noise’ will drown out the power and influence of the mainstream media. And put an end to the PCC.

Mike Jempson

What’s the Blogging Story? starts at 7pm in Bristol’s Watershed on Friday 22 Oct, and continues at the Pervasive Media Centre on Sat 23 Oct. See for more details.

The event is linked to the EU-funded MediaACT Project

(Bulletin No 155)

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