What the rebirth of the PCC could mean for the climate conversation
- 08 Mar 2012, 16:00
- Ros Donald
Our friends at the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) have
decided to shut up shop and create a new, more effective regulator.
We submitted two assessments of our dealings with the PCC over
several months while we eventually got recalcitrant Mail Group
newspapers to retract incorrect statements about the cost of
renewables subsidies to households.
According to the
Independent, the commission officially discussed its closure at
a meeting chaired by Lord Hunt today. It says Hunt is anxious to
have a "new authority in place and functioning well ahead of the
first draft and any early recommendations" by Lord Justice Leveson,
whom the government charged with making
recommendations on the future of press regulation.
The details of the closure and the shape the new body might take
won't be announced for another six weeks, the Independent says -
though Hunt has expressed the need to create a "regulator with
teeth". According to the
Guardian, a transitional body will replace the PCC, and a new,
permanent regulator should be up and running in either 2013 or
What could better regulation do to improve the way climate
science and policy are portrayed in the media?
Notably, the PCC hasn't been able to prevent the press from
pursuing the more ludicrous
angles in their climate change coverage. But there's also the less
obvious distortions - last month, we reflected on
the difficulties we encountered working with the PCC to get the
Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday to retract incorrect figures about
green costs on energy bills.
This long and painful process yielded somewhat unsatisfying
results - tiny corrections buried on pages two or four of the print
edition of the newspaper. Perhaps more worryingly, printing
PCC-negotiated corrections didn't stop the newspapers making
repeating use of the inaccurate figures. This is either a
particularly careless mistake, or an indication that the PCC's
intervention wasn't taken massively seriously.
As it stands at the moment, newspapers with an interest in
selectively reporting the truth or publishing unsubstantiated
statements can do so knowing any their readers will barely notice
A group of charities including the Wellcome Trust and Cancer
Research UK - a charity that suffers particularly from media
coverage which suggests links between cancer and almost anything you can think
suggested to the Leveson Committee that where discussing
scientific matters, articles should provide references. This
would at any rate allow readers to check sources for themselves,
which would be useful when that function is pretty obviously
lacking in some newspapers' climate reporting.
The charities also suggest that corrections should be printed with
the same prominence as the original, incorrect story - a prospect
that could well give editors pause when they consider whether to
quote dodgy evidence. After all, avoiding a public climbdown might
be more of a motivator if it was going to take up most of the front
Commentators such as UK education secretary
Michael Gove have warned further regulation could have a
chilling effect on press freedom. But enforcing standards of
accuracy and accountability is not the same as seeking to influence
newspapers' editorial lines. But this should be a welcome step -
whatever your views, the quality of any debate can only improve if
the argument is kept in the realm of the truth.